By John Quinn
Review: ‘Dirty Story’
JET opens season with cute, clever satire – and geo-politics, too
Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can offend some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but only Thomas Nast can offend all of the people all of the time.”
Ok, he didn’t say it, but that’s not the point.
Political cartoonists like Nast and his descendants have a long history in popular culture, and an enviable little world in which they work. They can paint with the broad brush of caricature, ignoring some features while emphasizing others. They can ignore “unfortunate” details and go with a heavy bias – and no one expects the result to be hard news.
Finally, they really don’t have to please anybody but their editors.
“Dirty Story,” making its Midwest premiere at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre, is a nasty-nice political cartoon of a play. Written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (for “Moonstruck;” Cher – yeah THAT “Moonstruck”), “Dirty Story” isn’t going to please everybody.
The language is pretty raw for West Bloomfield. If you’re of an interventionist persuasion, you’ll get yuks aplenty. Or if you believe, for instance, that NATO should have been disbanded after the Soviet Union dissolved, you might think more in keeping with the last line of the play, “Tragic, ain’t it?”
The allegory is slathered on as thick as cream cheese on a bagel. Were this play a person you had just met, you might think it rather smug and self-satisfied with its own cleverness, perhaps a little pretentious.
Well, first impressions are lasting ones.
The story itself concerns two writers who meet in a park, Brutus and Wanda, who move into an apartment together, only to find that their personalities clash worse than their writing styles. At each other’s throats over how to define their “space,” they allow Frank and his crony Watson to come in and arbitrate.
Shanley has purposely left his first act vague, and invites us to clue into his plot device gradually. Just in case you don’t get it by the intermission, director Gillian Eaton has provided a program insert to help you work it out.
Under Eaton’s insightful direction, the play is a tribute to JET’s consistently high production standards. The action, fast and furious and played on a fluid set, never gets in the way of the plot. This is a fun show to watch.
Of special note in the cast is Shelly Gaza, who won BTL’s 2003 Wilde Award for Best Actress for her riveting performance in “Streetcar Named Desire” at the Hillberry Theatre. Gaza’s Wanda is an absolute firecracker, whether vamping in a lipstick red cocktail dress, or asserting her rights in combat fatigues.
One wonders, though, if Shanley had taken his allegory to its logical conclusion, whether he would have gotten that standing ovation from his audience, or over-ripe tomatoes. There’s another advantage for a cartoonist – being able to quit while he’s ahead.
“Dirty Story” Presented Wednesday through Sunday by the Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company, 6600 W. Maple, West Bloomfield, through Nov. 23. Tickets: $22 – $32. 248-788-2900. www.jettheatre.org.
The Bottom Line: I’m not doing your homework for you, kids; if you want to know what we’re talking about, you’re gonna have to see the play.