Play chronicles the rise of the Order, a white-supremacist group based in the Northwest that embarked on a yearlong crime spree that included robbery, counterfeiting and the murder of Alan Berg, the outspoken Denver radio talkshow host.
Told in a series of skillful but cursory flashbacks and cuts, the play plows through volumes of courtroom and other story material, bombarding the audience with a barrage of facts, histories and even characters.
The effect, unfortunately, is to numb rather than heighten audience reaction to the extremely provocative subject matter.
The most frustrating aspect of the play is its failure to depict what must certainly be the fascinating characters behind this saga.
The obviously charismatic founder of the order, Robert Jay Mathews (Darrell Larson), is portrayed as a caricature of an extremist leader. While we get glimpses into the personal life and background of Mathews, he is presented primarily as a two-dimensional character.
It is as if playwright Dietz is afraid to present these white supremacists as fully developed human beings out of fear that the audience will become too sympathetic to them or to their cause. Or he was not willing to take the imaginary leap to create dramatic characters out of these real personages.
In any case, the play relies on many tried-and-true docudrama techniques, including the multiple courtroom scenes, the direct address to the audience and ritualized movement.
The most effective moments come in several lyrical passages in which the characters seem to be reaching to understand or even explain their powerful feelings of hatred and of hope. But these sections are often confusing and obscure and don’t seem to relate to the principal action of the play.
Director Frank Condon marches in lock-step with the mechanistic approach of the playwright, without adding much in the way of color or texture that might relieve the ongoing tedium of a predictable piece.
The ensemble cast, which includes notable performances by Ann Bronston, Martha Hackett, Angela Perry and Larson, does yeoman work within the limitations of the play.
Robert Lesser deserves special note for his performance as Alan Berg, finding the warmth and power of the character that is the most well-rounded in the piece.
While any treatment of white supremacy is bound to leave the audience unsettled, this play misses the opportunity to portray some of the real dangers and, more important, the truly dangerous personalities of this vicious brand of extremism.