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by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Jun 16, 2016
Matt Arnold, Glen Moore, and Justus Perry in 'Blinders'
Matt Arnold, Glen Moore, and Justus Perry in 'Blinders'  (Source:Jake Scaltreto)

Boston-area playwright Patrick Gabridge has had quite a season on the city's stages, including two world premiere productions: "Lab Rats," which Brown Box Theatre produced last fall, and "Blood on the Snow," a play based on actual events following the Boston Massacre that the Boston Historical Society commissioned and put on at the Old State House, in the very room where the conversations depicted in the play took place.

Though Gabridge's play "Blinders" is not premiering in its current run, through June 25 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, the two-decade old script seems frighteningly prescient with respect to the current election cycle. Flat Earth Theatre likewise seems eerily precognitive in having scheduled the play as part of its 10th Anniversary Season.

The plot is so absurd as to constitute black satire of the most fantastical sort. (Of course, historians looking back at this year might well have the same opinion of the 2016 elections.) Following the discovery of two identical snowflakes, a shady scientific agency launches a search for two unrelated -- but genetically identical -- human beings. It's theoretically possible, of course, but even if two randomly identical people were identified, of what possible interest could it be?

  (Source:Jake Scaltreto)

Plenty, as it turns out, because the scientist (Glen Moore) behind the initiative is a power-mad, overbearing, and self-promoting demagogue. (Has the play hit your "OMG, deja-vu!" button yet?) The story of Alex (Justus Perry) and Chris (Matt Arnold) is spun so relentlessly that the pair become overnight global icons who quickly parlay their fame into political power and then seek to consolidate their power by launching a joint bid for the presidency. (Yes, constitutionally speaking this makes no sense. But again, have a look at today's actual political landscape and see if you can identify anything that does make sense.)

Candidate Chris & Alex are championed by their supporters with fervent ardor bordering on homicidal hysteria, but not everyone is fooled. Newspaper reporter Karen Sayer (Kimberly McClure) takes note of the fact that, for two supposedly "identical" people, Chris & Alex are strikingly distinct. In fact, they do not resemble each other in the slightest.

When she's ridiculed and fired for making this observation, Karen becomes obsessed with proving to a smitten, celebrity-addled culture that the world at large has been duped in a con job so audacious -- and so transparent -- that its very success is a sort of marvel in and of itself. But no matter how hard Karen strives to bring the objective facts to people's attention, she's shunned and threatened. (Surely by now your sense of familiarity is screaming. Maybe your "danger is imminent" spider-sense, as well.)

Karen's own boyfriend, Stack (Craig Ciampa), might or might not also see through the deception -- but he doesn't care; he's a PR flack, and when he's given the opportunity to spruce up Chris & Alex's public persona he jumps at the chance for riches and fame. Karen's parents, Floyd (Arthur Gomez) and Wanda (Sarah Mass) are no comfort: They have been completely suckered, and when Karen turns to them for support they respond by institutionalizing her.

  (Source:Jake Scaltreto)

Enter the underground resistance, which goes by the acronym T.U.M.O.T.S.C.A.F.R.O.P. and whose operatives have names like Hideout (Marge Dunn). They are small in number, but they see right through the Emperor's nonexistent wardrobe, and they are determined to save the country -- and the world -- from the menace of Chris & Alex. Once they recruit Karen (and spring her from the loony bin), the situation becomes even more explosive with apocalyptically comic possibilities.

Director Korinne T. Ritchey infuses the material with all the sublime scurrilousness it calls for. "Blinders" plays like a "Twilight Zone" episode penned by Russian masters of the politically nightmarish like Kafka or Gogol. For a while you wonder whether Karen really has lost her mind. Will the twist turn out to be that she really does belong in the bughouse?

You'll find no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that the twist is both completely logical, and totally in keeping with the funhouse mirror-style atmosphere that Gabridge's script, together with Ritchey's direction, conjures. Meanwhile, the hairs on the back of your neck will absolutely horripilate at the realization that everything Gabridge penned two decades ago as unthinkable and overblown has become our daily reality -- a reality summarized by vapid, shopping-obsessed members of the American electorate, a monied (or money-hungering) class that's content to look the other way as long as the chaos that swallows the country leaves their slice of the pie untouched, a transformation of middle-class citizens into logic-proof partisans, and a new social agreement that rejects sanity and re-casts rationality into something suspect.

This is a play that will leave you gasping, but not all the gasps will be from laughter. More than a few will be from horrified recognition.

"Blinders" continues through June 25 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. For tickets and more information, please go to https://www.flatearththeatre.com

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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