A Dear John letter to modern American politics: “The Return to Morality”

Photo courtesy of TTC Facebook page

Photo courtesy of TTC Facebook page; the cast, looking much happier here than their characters do in the production.

Presented by Titanic Theatre Company
Written by Jamie Pachino
Directed by Michelle M. Aguillon

September 8-25, 2016
Central Square Theatre
Cambridge, MA
Titanic Theatre on Facebook

Review by Noelani Kamelamela

(Cambridge, MAIt is a presidential election year in these United States.  Ordinary campaigns are already the cesspools of public opinion where good policies raise their hands and get passed over for workable compromises.  Presidential campaigns are therefore a special circle of our own red, white and blue hellscape where we, the people, can gather together and worry about our future as a nation.  It is a Sisyphean task, which means the situation is ripe for comedy.  Titanic Theatre Company’s production of The Return to Morality elicits anxious laughter in this context.  

The title of the play is the title of our main character Arthur Kellogg’s book.  He’s been working on a pastiche of conservative ideologies, his cathartic reimagining of what he considers ridiculous and backwards.  He wants the book to be circulated widely, to finally get people to change and really unite under a modern liberal flag.  Unfortunately, he also wants fame and fortune, and people around him are interested in using him and his work to further their own aims.  

Caught between his own good and bad intentions, Adam Siladi as Arthur Kellogg collapses into his portrayal of a naive and doomed Pierrot.  He makes Faustian deals without getting to enjoy the rewards before the customary tolls are extracted.  Kellogg is definitely a writer, and not much of a talker.  In fact, it often seems as if he’s thinking five hundred steps behind everyone in the room including the audience.  Other members of the ensemble flit on and off stage constantly with props and set, a parade that sweeps on and off while Kellogg seems to be stuck alone in his thoughts even when in the presence of others.  

A raked, silver comma is the thrust stage in the center of the small black box, with fluorescent lights hung downstage.  Even at a two hour run time and one ten minute intermission, the show still moves quickly enough that actors giving place and time prior to critical scenes was necessary.  The space amplifies sound readily, so few of the lines were garbled or difficult to hear.  The actors were never outshone by the technical details.

Phil Thompson has an absolutely unforgettable voice and a fantastic sense of timing, his showmanship is a credit and sparkles most when he is able to bring the show to a halt only to restart it. With limited stage time, Regina Vital also displays an impressive range in at least three different roles. Overall, the ensemble managed to lift the script just enough to keep the audience attentive.

Laughter was occasional, since most of the jokes were cynical and frequently based on slight misapprehension or severe misunderstanding. Pachino’s dialogue at it’s best hands out sneaky combination attacks to both conservatives and liberals at the same time. Although there is enough meat to wring out bemused guffawing, the script is light on the details of what, exactly, if anything, people believe.  When it comes to the specifics of what we do, it is fatalistic. Beliefs then, are not nearly as important as action, which is a decent moral if not an actual restoration of decency that the play’s title suggests.

The Titanic Theatre Company should be back next year with a different, engaging comedy.  Stay tuned to their website for more information.

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