Patriot Act: A Reality Show

Playwright Charles A. Duncombe's satire is as much a Socratic dialogue as it is a play. But although the piece crackles with ideas and intelligence, the static nature of the work is such that even the otherwise usually imaginative stage ministrations of director Frederique Michel seem foiled by the sedate material.

Influenced by his desire to show the proper American spirit following events such as the Iraq war and the World Trade Center massacre, a shlubby, average Middle American guy (Bo Roberts) tries out for a reality TV show, hoping to be crowned the Most Patriotic Man in America. However, when he arrives at the studio, the poor fellow is abruptly locked in a room and interrogated by three creepy casting directors--a perky she-director (Kathryn Sheer), and two goons (Paul M. Rubenstein and Tom Killam)--who pepper the chap with a variety of questions. At first the questions seem innocuous; the questioners ask the man's opinions about his faith in authority, national security, and the things needed to insure it. Before long, though, the interrogators veer into eerier terrain, alternately unnerving and humiliating the hapless man, who soon makes an alarming discovery.

It's a pleasure to see a play that's about political argument, especially one that directly addresses the slippery slope of American privacy issues in the post-9/11 world. Yet the argument is all the play has, and after a few minutes the spoof of reality TV becomes forced and conversation starts to drag. Duncombe's suggestion that we'll lose our rights if we're not careful is engrossing, but it is undermined by the cartoonish, unconvincing quality of the main character's responses and rebuttals. If the issues here were this clear-cut, we wouldn't have to think twice about this stuff. Michel's staging is fast-paced, attempting to enliven the long discourse with unexpected gestures and an overall mood of unease. But the show doesn't feel like it goes anywhere, the timely debate notwithstanding.