Jon Robin Baitz's play, which had its West Coast premiere more than a decade ago at the Mark Taper Forum with Richard Dreyfuss and Christine Lahti, returns in a solid production that is even more relevant today. Kenneth Hoyle (Jim Harnagel) is an executive for a corporation that distributes baby formula to underdeveloped countries and has become embroiled in public controversy over the use and misuse of its product. Hoyle is a good company soldier on the front lines of the battle between powerful multinationals and poor countries, joined by their political allies in the developed world.
He and his wife, Barbara (Jennifer Buchanan), met in the Peace Corps when they were idealistic and young. They were captivated by the challenges of working in Africa and Latin America and hoped to change the world in some small way. However, like many idealistic young people, they drifted into cynicism and careerism. Working for a private Western corporation in the Third World, they soon realized, was a lot different from working for the Peace Corps. When tragedy strikes their family, Kenneth and Barbara realize that their lives have disintegrated into compromise and corruption, and each must take a stand.
Baitz structures the play with three monologues in three hotels-in Morocco, the Virgin Islands, and Mexico. Two of the monologues are Kenneth's, the other is Barbara's. This serial-monologue approach is challenging for several reasons. First, it presents the actors with the tough task of talking alone with the audience for 20 minutes or more in each scene. This is no mean feat, because the actor must not only create a believable reality but also must create the emotional pace of the scene by him-or herself. Secondly, from a dramatic standpoint, Baitz has his characters recounting their stories rather than enacting them, which risks an emotional distance from the narrative.
Fortunately, Harnagel and Buchanan, under the wise direction of Kappy Kilburn, are up to the task. Harnagel brings a relaxed Everyman quality to the role: the well-meaning if ambitious American businessman trying to bring some sense to a chaotic world. Buchanan is also excellent, giving a subtle, poignant portrayal of a woman trying to keep herself together while living with unbearable sorrow. The world has changed a great deal since the early 1990s, when the play was first produced, but the issues it raises--the role of America and the corporate foot soldiers abroad--is more pertinent than ever.
Presented by and at the Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. Mar. 11-Apr. 9. (866) 811-4111.