Comparisons between McCarthy-era red-baiting and the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism campaign have been plentiful since theater companies rebounded from the gagging of critical voices immediately following 9/11. But, “Every Secret Thing,” now receiving its world premiere at Modern Muse in Denver, has something new to offer — a poignant tale from the heartland circa 1954.
Play tells the story of an entire local educational system turned upside down by the FBI’s prodding for names and conversational details. Private lives fall victim to the insinuations of witch hunters, who repeat history by finding a heretic or terrorist under every bed.
Story takes place in the faculty lounge, principal’s office and classrooms of a middle school where decorated WWII veteran Richard Packard (Gregory J. Adams) teaches civics to talented but overzealous Maxine Hoyt (Jessica Posner). Maxine is manipulated by government propaganda and unconstitutional police tactics to bring harm on the school system.
Adams is thoughtful and cogent as Packard, the stoic hero and moral voice of the play, while Posner’s malevolent glee provides a clear emotional reference to Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Support performances from helmer Steve Lavezza’s cast give the script its due.
However, the play remains a work in progress. The pacing lags in a couple of stretches, the script leaves too many loose ends and the staging, with five separate but closely proximate areas, occasionally steps on itself. In addition, the drama fails to sketch in the roots of Maxine’s ideological seduction.
Despite these shortcomings, the story resonates and its real-life basis (as a kid, GeBauer was conscripted by cops to write down license plate numbers) serves as a warning to anyone willing to listen.