Jason Wells isn’t giving everything away in his captivating new play “Men of Tortuga.” In addressing some serious contemporary issues, he creates a scenario where the audience has only a rough idea of what’s going on. And that’s just about the way it should be. In a crackling world premiere at the Asolo Repertory Theater, Wells tells a story of corporate greed, power, surveillance and the secrecy that increasingly pervades our daily lives.
The setting is a gleaming, modern office surrounded by glass and silvery scaffolding designed by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg. But the audience never knows what goes on there or why the people in charge are so determined to kill one man they describe as an enemy. He’s certainly despised by the group’s apparent leader, who would rather destroy his operation than let this unnamed opponent take over or even have anything resembling control.
Wells and the Asolo cast grab the audience from the start as three businessmen meet with a hired assassin about how they might be able to kill the enemy. They discuss various options, including rifle shots, chemicals and missiles, learning some lessons about bullet strength and velocity.
The men are determined to figure out a plan until enthusiastic assassin Taggart (James Clarke) asks them about collateral damage. “What is the cost of each life, compared to the reward of success?” Taggart asks, wondering if they care that some innocent people likely will die as well.
Over the two acts, Wells continually raises the stakes on the plan. The apparent leader, Maxwell (Eb Thomas), is even willing to put himself in the room for the plan to work, knowing he might die in the process. His suggestion causes surprising concerns among his colleagues, who wonder about his true commitment as well as why an increasing number of people are becoming aware of the plans.
The play pulses with energy under Greg Leaming’s careful direction, which allows each scene to build and occasionally explode. At times the men shout on top of one another for long stretches, as they might in a real meeting.
Douglas Jones as Avery is the calm in the storm, holding back his concerns but trying not to let anyone see him sweat. That’s just the opposite of David Breitbarth as Kling, who becomes increasingly panicked until he unleashes a string of curses about the possibility of being discovered.
As the assassin, Clarke is both cocky and cautious, eager to go through with the plans as long as the men realize the potential damage. Thomas is simultaneously confident and weary as Maxwell, seemingly tired of the fight. (He joined the production less than three weeks before the opening to replace Richard Russell Ramos, who died during rehearsals.) And Paul Molnar is compelling as a young man trying to assure that he has a future while drafting a hefty document to be used in the meeting.
Costumes by Michelle Macadaeg and lighting by William Peeler keep things focused and believable.
Sometimes you just don’t need all the answers to be able to leave a theater with plenty of ammunition for a stirring conversation.