Serious political plays are as rare as honest politicians these days — as an audience, we seem to prefer our politics leavened by humor. A good serious political play is rarer still, which makes T.S. Cook’s thoughtful if despairing “Ravensridge” all the more valuable. The piece isn’t perfect — some of the dialogue feels a bit stereotypical, a troubadour singing union-centered folk songs between scenes is a heavy-handed device, and a love story subplot is simply unnecessary — but what Cook gets right is witty and powerful. The world premiere production at the Fremont Center Theater succeeds as a galvanizing drama under James Reynolds’ lucid direction, and benefits from a talented cast.
In 1992, American steel worker and union member Will Torrey (Vaughn Armstrong) has been incarcerated in a Russian prison. Torrey is being investigated for a charge of possible murder, interrogated by Major Viktor Davidykov (the palindromic Robert Trebor). Torrey’s steel-working union in Ravensridge, West Virginia, had been victim to a corporate lockdown, where all the employees were forcibly replaced by nonunion workers. When Torrey discovered that the owner of the company, Richard Miller (Jon Sklaroff), was evading U.S. indictment by hiding out in Russia, he went to Russia to talk to the man, but accidentally ended up killing a Russian thug trying to keep him away from his old boss. At first, Torrey believes that Davidykov is trying to punish him for the collapse of the Soviet Union, but when Miller finally arrives, the two men recognize they have more in common than they had realized.
Armstrong is sympathetic as the well-meaning if out-of-his-depth Torrey, and a moment at the end of the play where he realizes what his actions have cost him is moving. Trebor is superb as the acerbic Davidykov, ironically bemoaning, “We used to be such a beautiful police state,” and then affectingly describing how for all of communism’s faults, how important it was that the whole country was experiencing it together. Trebor’s Russian accent is excellent, and his perf is multilayered and nimble.
Although Sklaroff doesn’t walk onstage till the final third of the play, he dominates it completely. His Miller is an initially soothing snake who charms and disarms Torrey almost effortlessly. When Torrey begins to see through his facade, Miller’s cold ruthlessness is revealed, his every word dripping with contempt. Sklaroff’s calmly reasonable delivery of his chilling climactic speech is the highlight of an extraordinary perf. Jed Reynolds (who also delivers a great Russian accent) and Emily Adams are very good in their roles as a Russian Junior Officer and Torrey’s fellow steel worker, respectively.
Victoria Profitt’s gray, bifurcated set is efficient, if not inspired.