"Ripped From The Headlines!!!"
It’s a catchphrase you see on everything from TV shows to movies to best-selling books. And rarely is the subject matter actually "ripped from the headlines."
But you could certainly use the phrase to describe "Perfect Mendacity," the Jason Wells play that opened this weekend at Next Act Theatre.
Take a company that makes anthrax and a scientist who works for that company and a confidential memo he takes home and a memo that gets leaked to the press causing a huge deal about the killing of many innocents by the anthrax.
It doesn’t get much more ripped from the headlines than that.
But while this could easily have been a play about corporate malfeasance whistleblower laws, director David Cecsarini has let it be so very much more, and so very personal.
The story focuses on the scientist, Walter Kreutzer (Mark Ulrich) who is about to take a polygraph test to determine whether he’s the leaker. He is almost over the edge with fears about taking the test, so afraid he has hired an expert (Lee Palmer) to teach him how to beat the test.
You can vividly see Ulrich grow ever more out of control as each grain of sand drops through the hourglass, bringing him closer to his date with the machine.
Ulrich is an actor who spares nothing when it comes to letting what you see convey as much as what you hear.
The clear strength of this play is the magnificent scene with Ulrich, Marti Gobel, who plays his Moroccan-born wife, and Cecsarini himself as Roger his co-worker and an example of what he could become if he should fail the test.
The scene when Roger visits the two at their apartment, armed with a recorder to give to the bosses, is the kind of dark humor that can give you chills.
Sure, you laugh. But there is a strong undercurrent of fear and sorrow and resignation that is enough to make you cry.
Gobel is, as usual, as good as it gets. She is trying discover whatever it was she saw in this man who is now her husband but who has become such a paranoid stranger.
There is a moment in this play when Gobel, standing behind her husband recalls their honeymoon night.
He was standing on a balcony and she describes her coming up behind him touching him and brushing his neck with her lips. It is, hands down, one of the sexiest moments you will see on a Milwaukee stage this year. She combines a winsome grace with the feral tempestuousness and is in absolute control of her spot on the stage.
Cecsarini has a lovely knack for playing the kind of sleazy character who is only distantly in touch with any kind of moral compass. He showed us all in last year’s outstanding "Microcrisis," and does it again here.
In the end this play may well be ripped from the headlines, but it also is a deftly-told examination of what it means to lie and what it means to lie about lying.
"Perfect Mendacity" runs through Oct. 13. Information can be obtained at nextact.org.
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