Robert Reich calls his play “Public Exposure,” receiving its world preem at Cape Cod’s funky, feisty Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, “a political outburst.” That’s as good a name as any for the theater piece, penned by the distinguished financial theoretician, Brandeis professor and Clinton cabinet member.
As a theatrical economist, Reich understands that in the realm of political satire, brief is best. But even with a show that clocks in at under an hour, a cast of terrific twisted comic actors and snappy direction by Gip Hoppe, Reich shows he is also Secretary of the Belabored, with jokes and themes that are all too obvious. Still, it can be seen as an occasionally entertaining trifle best enjoyed at a summer theater by the deep blue (state) sea.
At what point did political discourse in the media become so surly, sour and surreal? Whenever that was, Reich takes it an absurd step further by pushing it into a contemporary Cloud Cuckooland, but without Aristophanes’ wit or insight. Instead he becomes a bit of a wild clucker — a kind of hen in the Fox house.
The piece centers on Bill Humphrey (Robert Kropf), a righteous, right-wing political tele-bully whose show’s slogan is “We expose, you watch.”
Reich’s theme is simple: In the name of disclosure — not to mention ratings and elections — how far will people go?
The Bill O’Reilly type is vain, slick and shallow. But after having achieved through-the-roof ratings and bestseller status, what more can a super-pundit do? Sycophantic colleague Irma (Stacy Fischer), a cool blonde with coltish good looks and adaptable sexual leanings, urges him to run for president against the liberal “dragon lady.”
But Humphrey has a secret of his own: He is a flasher. Just as he’s announcing his run for the White House, he exposes himself. However, after the shock — and the endless videotape loop of the event — subsides, the American press and public see the act as the ultimate revelation: a politician who has nothing to hide. “You’re going to be president even if you are a pervert?” a character asks. And for a while, it is apparently so, with every politician jumping on the stripping bandwagon.
But fame is fickle, and there are still other revelations to make before the candidate is even further and more fatally revealed.
Reich, who has run for office himself (governor of Massachusetts), makes some good comic observations, especially regarding the showbiz nature of the political shoutfest shows and the left’s devolution to bureaucratic gibberish in the face of the right’s sloganeering onslaughts. But most of the sex jokes are collegiate and some scenes simply go astray, such as a subplot involving Humphrey going to a plastic surgeon to get his member straightened (shamefully, it veers to the left with a vengeance).
Much of the humor comes not from the unmemorable lines but from the perfs, which besides a suitably slinky Fischer and a bum-bearing Kropf include Michael Dorval and Laura Latreille as the plastic surgeon and his renovated wife and McNelly Myers in several roles.
“Public Exposure” has a kind of dashed-off feel, which has its raw charms but also limits the play’s future. The folks at Comedy Central don’t have to stay up late worrying about the competition. Neither does “The O’Reilly Factor.”