The North Plan at Main Stage West, Sebastopol CA
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
So Funny It Hurts
“The North Plan” at Main Stage West may just be a threat to national security. By acclaimed playwright Jason Wells, who has also acted in film and on television, it had its world premiere in Oregon at Portland Center Stage in January 2012. It’s a terrifying comedy, a lively and animated wild ride where the crassly profane collides head-on with the geeky arcane. It takes place sometime in the near future, in the aftermath of a major national emergency. The country is in turmoil, martial law has been imposed on the land, and all those black-helicopter conspiracy theorists are in full-throated frenzy.
The setting is a simple one: the jail in a small-town police station, with a cell on either side and a desk in the middle. A crazed, manic woman named Tanya (a brilliant Sharia Pierce) occupies one of the cells and is delivering a nonstop tirade to no one and everyone. We find out from her rant that she’s turned herself in for drunk driving and is mad as hell at her own little world, dropping F-bombs like hand grenades. It’s obvious that she’s hopelessly, dangerously stupid, and this state of being, symbolic of a larger population, is like the sizzling fuse on a bomb.
In the other cell is one Carlton Berg (subtly portrayed by Sam Coughlin) who claims to be working for the State Department. He seems to know some pretty dangerous secrets about recent events and is frantically trying to be taken seriously. He’s the intellectual polar opposite to Tanya, and a heated exchange soon erupts like machine-gun fire between them. Sitting at the desk in the middle of it all is the station’s administrative officer Shonda (the charmingly funny Miranda Lawson), assigned to keep an eye on the two. She’s trapped in the verbal crossfire, in a jail cell of her own – it’s just not behind bars – and it’s a prison she’s desperate to escape. The flexible and ever-amazing John Craven plays the honest, straight-shootin’ police chief Swenson. He’s the equalizer that keeps things in perspective, the very soul of stability. Like Shonda, he finds himself caught in the middle of something much bigger than he could ever imagine. The future of Democracy could very well be in their hands.
The subversive Carlton’s presence, and his laptop full of names being held in the jail’s evidence room, draws the attention of two Men in Black from the “Department of Homeland Security”. Dale, played with comic menace by John Browning, and Bob, whose resentment at playing second fiddle to Dale is skillfully played by Jared Wright. They arrive on the scene armed with handguns, iPhones and plenty of attitude. At one point, Dale makes a call to an unknown authority, asking “Are we killing people?” Fun stuff that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and your sanity.
Main Stage West has consistently gone out on a limb, year after year, to take their delighted audiences on journeys into unknown territory. Productions of great political and social significance are staged with integrity and creativity. They are one of the very few theaters in the North Bay that produces such risk-taking forays into theatre. “The North Plan” is yet another example.
This is one tight show, with really fine performances by the entire cast, but especially Pierce as the loudly, proudly ignorant Tanya. “The North Plan” gleefully highlights the increasing polarization of our society today with skillfully-drawn, almost cartoonish characters. Director Rick Eldredge delivers ingenuity and breathless pacing, keeping the chaos under control and the black humor building to a positively insane crescendo.
When: Now through June 21, 2015
8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
5:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets $15 to $27 (Thursdays are “pay what you will” at the door only)
Where: Main Stage West
104 North Main Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472