note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
Reality TV is the essence of America’s dumbing down and worshipping the lowest common denominator in what’s purported to be entertainment. TV moguls claim the public is craving for shows like “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” “Jersey Shore,” “Wife Swap,” and likewise for base fare like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich, whose shows feature couples dredged or conjured up to seem like they emerged from America’s sewers.
In Zeitgeist Stage Company’s New England premiere of Rod McLachlan’s “Good Television,” the playwright digs deeper, beyond reality TV planners‘ exploitation of their subjects to interaction with, potential rehabilitation and solution for a deeply troubled young man and his dysfunctional family.
Veteran actor McLachlan’s “Good Television” is his debut in the writing foray. According to Zeitgeist Artistic Director-Director David Miller, the play is based on A&E’s “Intervention” series, which ran for 13 seasons until 2012, when it was replaced by “Duck Dynasty”. McLachlan’s wife was an executive producer for the series, and his play is rooted in her experience.
McLachlan creates layers in some characters’ personalities, while barely scratching the surface with others. He also increasingly springs surprises on theatergoers.
Despite a few flaws in McLachlan’s play, Miller wrings out every drop of emotion, irony, and reality with his canny theatrical eye. Besides casting and directing, Miller designed a tri-section stage. With lighting designer Jeff Adelberg’s spotlights, actors switch rapidly from a trailer home in Aiken, SC to two Los Angeles TV offices of “The Rehabilitation” reality show.
Bernice (Zeitgeist favorite Shelley Brown), head of an intervention TV reality show team, announces she’s leaving to helm an entertainment show, and introduces her eager, British replacement, Ethan, (William Bowry). He claims he wants to learn about the show from the ground up, and will willingly film “in the trenches”. He wants to boost ratings even higher. Production assistant, Tara (Tasia Jones), is also eager to strut her stuff; but head field producer Connie, (Christine Power), has scruples and will only select drug or alcohol addicts and their families who she thinks will benefit from their prize - highly rated, all-expenses paid rehabilitation.
Connie is moved by nursing student- divorced young mother Brittany’s plea to select her brother, Clemmy, a 21-year-old methamphetamine addict, for the show. Brittany fears Clemmy’ll die if he isn’t helped.
Jenny Reagan as selfless, caring Brittany and Brandeis University Theatre Arts student Ben Lewin as Clemmy are dynamic. His drug-addled behavior and fear of his supplier murdering him if he’s exposed is nerve-wracking.
Against Connie‘s better judgment, she bends under her TV team’s urging to select Clemmy - a young male - precisely what the show needs to boost ratings, says Bernice.
Suddenly, the play takes unexpected twists, tumbling like a slinky.
When Connie, Tara, and Ethan arrive at the blue-collar family trailer, where Brit cares for her mom dying of emphysema, and Clemmy, their brother Mackson (Olev Aleksander) shows up, claiming he works in TV and demands compensation for the family, a contract for residuals, etc.
Another surprise visitor (portrayed by Bill Salem) creates an upheaval in the family, prompting Clemmy to unearth ugly secrets. Meanwhile, Ethan and Tara continue filming, salivating over the family’s misery. But not Connie. She insists on scrapping the project, and later reveals her own secret.
Like reality TV, “Good Television” embraces sensationalism, but at Zeitgeist, it’s provocative, not senseless or smutty.
BOX INFO: New England premiere of Rod McLachlan’s two-act play, appearing with Zeitgeist Stage Company through May 17 at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA), Plaza Black BoxTheater, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances:Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m., with talkback. Advance tickets, $25; day of show, $30; senior, student discount tickets, $20. Call 617-933-8600 or visit BostonTheatreScene.com. For more information, visit www.ZeitgeistStage.com.