A disgruntled talkshow guest takes radical action in “The Reality Trap.” Ambitious, convoluted but watchable pic targets the bread and circuses underbelly of reality shows by riposting with tools sharpened in the legit theater. A formal exercise steeped in intellectual revenge, scripter-helmer Michael Bergmann’s indie is an uneven oddity that raises excellent questions about moral bankruptcy and the prying nature of pop media. Bergmann’s near-militant erudition will not be to all tastes and certain segs of elaborate narrative skew toward contrived. But something is always going on, very little of which is predictable. Pic, which has a real New York feel, could find niche audiences in fest, theatrical and ancillary playoff.
Via a gallery of lively characters spouting well-written if less-than-spontaneous dialogue, often funny pic explores the behavior of “bad” people who tell the truth and “good” people who lie. In addition to fests, result is a dandy element for theme evenings on the transgressions wrought by television, and a promising classroom tool for educators exploring the relevance of theater to contempo life.
While a guest on “Pulley’s People” — a show that suggests what might happen if Oprah’s booker chose guests for Jerry Springer — shapely sociologist and reformed adulteress Dr. Jill Barlow (Bonnie Loren) is betrayed and humiliated by host Hank Pulley (Kevin Stapleton). Since hell hath no fury like a really smart woman scorned, Jill enlists her theater director friend Graham (Graeme Malcolm) to assemble a quartet of actors willing to help her implement an elaborate revenge scheme.
Psychology, reverse-psychology and seat-of-the-pants improvisation fuel Jill’s plot, a ruse intended to prove just how heinous the ratings-driven world of studio audience tabloid TV can be. Corporate decision-making is nearly beyond the reach of satire, but pic gets off some good volleys.
Bergmann is interested in how the once crisp delineation between the good guys and bad has blurred, and whether all the world’s a stage or just a staging area for craven behavior.
Highlights include Tovah Feldshuh as a former celeb whose New Age musings are a hoot, and Hedy Burress as a guerrilla improviser whose pluck helps propel Jill’s ever-evolving plan. Scene where a specialist maps out the emotional curve of a show during which an on-camera death is expected to occur is a model of how advertising-think takes precedence over any semblance of ethical standards.
Despite sometimes rocky execution, venture takes to heart Graham’s pronouncement that “In the theater, one pointless second is an atrocity.”