By John W. Lowell
Directed by Blake Braswell
With Brian Brightman and Jennifer Christa Palmer
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL
If you’ve done nothing wrong, you still have something to fear, and in 1931 Moscow, that went double. Paranoia fills the air as the dream of a better Russia crumbles under the onslaught of Joseph Stalin and his successful attempt to wipe out any and all opposition. Tonight we peer into a microcosm of those purges, Anna (Palmer) is called up from her drudgery to the office of The Director (Brightman). As she pointedly points out you don’t get called up there for a pat on the head and warm “Job Well Done.” He chats amiably but with a not very subtle subtext of menace, and when he caches her in a minor lie he doubles down. Some letters in her office have gone missing and if released they pose a grave threat to The Director, the Bureau, and the entire Soviet empire. What could they contain? Just the semi-erotic personal letters of The Composer, a man discredited and presumably decomposing as they speak. The director holds nearly all the cards, including the ability to arrest, interrogate and murder without oversight. But Anna has one card, as The Director admits he’s not as smart as Anna and her staff, and it intimidates him. Can Anna leverage this one fact as save her skin?
Here we have a great example of a small cast in small space building a much larger sense of menace. Director Braswell ( a newcomer to the Mad Cow Stage) leads us through the mix of lies, deceptions, bravado and risk that was the daily life of any party apparatchik in those dark days. Mr. Brightman comports himself with a shaved head and military boots, he only needs a monocle to complete the German Field Marshal look. He alternates between charm and brutality and he’s surrounded by a semicircular desk that serves as citadel when attacked and forms the center of his creepy paranoid universe. Ms. Palmer shuffles and averts her eyes; in her frumpy skirt and sweater she’s a perfect candidate to teach poetry in a small private New England School. But there’s an inner toughness, and once she sees an angle she attacks fearlessly. After all, she will only have one chance to win, The Director needs little more than a common peccadillo to send you to hell. In today’s world of constant surveillance, here’s a reminder of what your freely elected state could do if its paranoia climbs too high.
For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com