Heavy-handed governments lend themselves quite readily to satire. Setting “Post Mortem” eight years in the future, A.R. Gurney posits the results of the Bush regime, envisioning curtailed civil rights, enforced religion and a decaying culture in which theaters have been turned into casinos. The fitfully amusing play alternates sharp jabs with meandering speechifying, featuring one-dimensional characters and a paucity of plot — it’s more of a long sketch than a fully realized work. That said, Insight America’s West Coast premiere production capitalizes on the play’s strengths with Jered Barclay’s thoughtful direction and a smart trio of actors.
Alice (Anna Nicholas) is a drama teacher at a faith-based university in the Midwest in 2015. She’s holding office hours when Dexter (Alan Bruce Becker), one of her students, arrives to confer about a thesis topic and shamelessly flirt with her. Dexter’s possible topics are limited in an environment where playwrights such as Tennessee Williams are considered too controversial and the campus theatrical group can produce only biblical stories or tales of the Bush and Cheney families. He suggests a thesis on deceased playwright A.R. Gurney and talks Alice into trying to produce Gurney’s posthumous play “Post Mortem.” Twelve years later, Alice and Dexter are married with children, their legendary production of the play having toppled the repressive government, and they are being interviewed by nervous student Betsy (Andrea Syglowski).
Nicholas brings liveliness and charm to what could be a somewhat expository role, adding an underlying anxiety to the character. Becker successfully transitions Dexter from an importuning student with promise to a worldly and confident adult. Syglowski steals the show as the well-meaning but awkward Betsy, full of questions that won’t all be answered, and the monologue concerning civility that she delivers with gradually mounting rage is a hilarious highlight.
The structure of the play is problematic, with the second scene fizzling when it should be paying off the premise of the first scene. The self-reflexivity of the piece is clever, however, with Gurney having history describe him — from a “Minor Figures in American Drama” book, no less — dismissively as an author of “middle-class comedies of manners.” His alternate biography and role in future history is one of the most effective and delightful aspects of the show. Barclay uses the relatively spare stage to his advantage, putting the focus on the performers. Tech credits are adequate.