Following on the heels of Ion’s successful run of “The Ballad of Emmitt Till” by Ifa Bayeza, based on the true accounting of the deliberate and race based lynching and ultimate death of young (14) Till in 1955 Mississippi, when the country was at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, The Ion's are prodding us again with another look at what some might call a different type of uprising.
Now through Sept 9th Ion Theatre is presenting the San Diego premiere of “The North Plan”. It is Jason Wells’ 2012 part tongue in cheek -part politically shrewd enough to send shivers up your spine play about a government takeover by hostile forces.
The play has just enough truth, innuendo and ambiguity in it, by today’s standards, to frighten the bejeezus out of most theatregoers given the political implications and atmosphere in this current administration… and it was written years earlier. Perhaps Wells saw something we failed to see or perhaps it was overlooked in our own zeal to forget the past and move on.
|Daren Scott, Samantha Ginn, Tina Machele Brown|
The play opens to our listening in to a host of vulgarities coming from a holding cell in the back room of a local police station in the small Missouri town of Lodus. It’s a small sliver of space held together with mesh wire on one side, a locked and chained door in front and the concrete walls of the building on the side and back. There’s a door leading to a corridor and the Chief’s office. (Jonathan Gilmer)
The loud and foul motor -mouthed prisoner ranting about her husband, the one that tried to drown her is Tanya Shepke (an excellent Samantha Ginn). Her rants go on and on about her kids who might now be taken away from her, and who may have to live with her reviled in-laws, and her work and her this and her that. She’s sober now, slept off her drunk and why is she still here?
Unfortunately for her she turned herself in for driving under the influence (because she’s a good citizen or she was afraid of being pulled over?) and lo and behold she had some outstanding warrants, ergo the cuffs and dismissal of her rants by administrative assistant Shonda Cox (Tina Machele Brown).
Shonda, an African-American deputy caught in the middle of a complex situation, is sitting on a folding chair reading a pre-law textbook and taking notes. Shonda, we learn, has no opinion and no answers for Tanya; she’s just a law enforcement placeholder.
|Tina Machele Brown, Don Loper, Daren Scot and Samantha Ginn|
After a fashion Chief Swenson, (a calm, cool and collected Don Loper) pokes his head into the room informing Shonda that he will be putting a political prisoner, Carlton Berg (Daren Scott), in the cell with Tanya for a short while until Homeland Security comes to question, (Enhanced Interrogation) and then transport him to one of the camps set up for political suspects.
Berg, we learn is a mid-level government employee that works for the State Dept. He just happened to stumble on a database of names and profiles of individuals and groups the government found to be enemies of the state.
It could have been in the McCarthy era and Communism, the Nixon enemy’s list and Watergate, or the one referred to as “The North Plan”.
In a short history lesson many of us of a certain age might have forgotten, and in broken sentences in an effort to explain to both Tonya and Shonda, (both too young to have even known about what is happening), he blathers on in detail dating back to the Iran Contra kerfuffle.
Then high- ranking Marine Officer Oliver North acting either on his own or in cahoots with other thugs in the Reagan White House, formed a shadow government to do the bidding of the US Government (like invade another country) if the our duly elected officials refused to take action. The plan would also authorize our government to round up anyone here considered to be a security threat, dissident or rabble-rouser.
|Daren Scott and Samantha Ginn|
According to Berg, it’s happening again; a shadow government is emerging. “They are arresting people. They are censoring the media.” In his mind ‘The North Plan’ in the form of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is alive and well and he has the evidence to prove it. His name is on the list, and so to the camps.
In an act of desperation, he begs Tanya’s help. With careful instructions on where the evidence he stored is located, and a bundle of money to her if the task is completed, he implores her to act ASAP.
Somehow when she is released, which will happen, she must come back and retrieve the computer without being seen by the Chief or Shonda and pass it on to a newspaper friend who will expose what Berg calls, the hostile takeover of our government. . (“Maybe it just looks like a revolution.” “Maybe there are smarter people than us working this stuff out right now.”)
And that’s in Act I, all 35 or so minutes of it.
Back at the station we find Shonda behind a desk doing her work and almost on the verge of helping Berg out. She’s in between the devil and the deep blue sea because Berg convinces her that she may be on that enemies list as well.
In a turn about second act, two Homeland Security agents Dale Pittman and Bob Lee (Jake Rosko and Fred Hunting) in black suits (of course) come bursting into the holding area, eyes like deer in the headlights looking for Berg. Dah, he’s behind bars.
The two are like Heckle and Jeckle played with exaggerated cartoon like characters gripping drawn handguns, sweeping the back room as if someone is after them. Cartoon or not, just their appearance is enough to send both shivers and chuckles. (“Are we killing people?”)
Somewhere else lurking in the building, Tanya is tiptoeing about eyeing a way to get to Berg’s computer. Looking altogether different in another set of clothes, some might call an outlandish looking outfit (Mary Summerday), with a cloth bag big enough to hide whatever she has in mind to hide, she manages to go unseen for a while.
The Chief lumbers in occasionally to reassure us that he is the more stable of all the characters and justice will be served in his own time and his own way.
|Don Loper and Daren Scott|
Aiding and abetting all this crazy political suicide is director Isaac Fowler. Lucky for us he has an eye and an ear for both glib and reality while keeping us pinned against the wall fidgeting and wondering how this will all play out.
Armed…oops, with an outstanding and completely committed (operative word) cast, “The North Plan” couldn’t be in better hands than with Samantha Ginn as the over the top foul-mouthed eccentric, who has always shown her versatility as “Sylvia” the dog in the play of the same name and Charlotte Corday in “The Revolutionists”.
She takes Tonya to higher places both physically and in tone in creating a character like Tonya. We can laugh at her stupidity and yes ignorance, yet there is a vulnerability about her. Ginn takes the prize home for her superb performance.
Both Jake Rosko and Fred Hunting are a hoot as they flounder around in incompetency trying to nail Berg. Some of the funniest capers involve the two men, especially Hunting’s Bob, and his complaints of being second fiddle to Dale rather than being co equals.
Don Loper and Tina Machele Brown, both in law enforcement but having different places in the history of it all, give solace that at least one will prevail and on the side of justice.
Daren Scott is thoroughly believable as the sought after and hunted. While some of the initial give and take repartee in the beginning might have been toned down for the audience to grasp the why of his plight, his complete emersion in his character gives cause to the reality of it all then and now.
With calls of fake news and downright lies coming from this White House, who knows if there is say a “Bannon Plan” plan in the works we don’t know about?
Wells’ play has its moments of serious disbelief, but Fowler keeps his cast focused and that proves to be a plus for the overall production, as dauntingly funny and outlandish as it might be. Are there over the top moments? Yes. Does the second act devolve into chaos? Yes, but keep your eye on the bouncing ball.
Two phrases come to mind and they are not original by any means:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, (George Santayana).
“Many a true word is said in jest” (Shakespeare)
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Sept. 9th
Organization: Ion Theatre
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 3704 6th Avenue, San Diego, CA92103
Ticket Prices: $35.00
Photo: Daren Scott