The Crooked and the Righteous

Love and Anger
Lagniappe Theatre at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage

Life During Wartime
Hidden Theatre at SpaceSpace

BERTOLT BRECHT IS long dead; gone with him (for the most part) is an unabashedly dogmatic approach to bringing down the walls of Jericho though a Marxist theater. But Our Modern Condition being what it is, contemporary lefty playwrights still try their hands political critiques. Lagniappe Theatre's Love and Anger and Hidden Theatre's Life During Wartime are two recent morality tales that shy away from circling the walls with trumpets blaring; these sly comedies seduce their way through the door.

Love and Anger, by Canadian playwright George F. Walker, concerns itself with lawyer Petie Maxwell, a reformed bastard and William Kunstler figure. Left a few cards short of a deck after a serious stroke, he represents the city's hard-luck cases with his straight-laced secretary Eleanor, determined to fight injustice on a systemic level, unconstrained by the specifics of any single case--or law, for that matter. This involves stringing along client Gail, whose husband is imprisoned, and encouraging Sarah, Eleanor's batty sister, to achieve independence outside a psychiatric ward. In the meantime, Petie's crusade against a reactionary newspaper magnate, Babe Conner, and a politically ambitious (and soulless) former law partner, Sean Harris, grows increasingly contentious.

Love and Anger consistently achieves the kind of line-by-line comic snap that television sitcoms promise but never deliver. Walker's verbal gamesmanship is so unforced that one almost forgets that most stage comedies are not funny. As Petie Maxwell, actor James Monitor deserves credit for his heads-up timing and right-on line readings--enough to forgive his periodic negligence in maintaining his character's limp. And Jenner Snell finds the right depth to Sarah's schizophrenia in a role that risks cuteness on one side and incredibility on the other. Those accustomed to the comparative subtlety of film acting may need a few minutes to adjust to Love and Anger's mannered performances (a fairly common phenomenon on Cities stages). But just as the pupil adjusts to light levels, one acclimates to the somewhat exaggerated enunciation and gesticulation. As this play is about lawyers, we may agree on a reduced charge: Misdemeanor Thespianism in the third degree.

The Hidden Theatre's laudable production of Keith Reddin's Life During Wartime puts a more stylized finish on the battle between the crooked and the righteous (and the principled waffling of all those in between). The plot: Home security salesman Tommy (played with bonhomie by director Jay Dysart) begins an affair with an older client, Gale. When sales manager Heinrich invites Tommy to engage in some double-dipping--robbing their own clients after disabling their alarms--Tommy is forced to take inventory of his ethics. All this shady business and fast-talk, tough-guy posturing does indeed invoke the "M" word--old man Mamet.

The novelty here is a running metatextual commentary on the climate of the modern soul provided by that beloved Western cleric John Calvin. On roller skates. Could this, you wonder, have looked any better on paper? But Calvin is not the only one on wheels. Played in the round on a bare stage, chairs, desks, couches and a platform are all on casters, continuously jockeyed (with talking cargo aboard) from place to place. It's a neat, if damn noisy, complement to the abstraction of the second act--extraneous speechification on the sacredness of life, love, and work. That Life During Wartime never entirely earns its reverie is no slight to this promising company's staging; as usual, love lost and the carpe diem thing have the last word. CP

Both plays run through October 29. For tickets and showtimes for Love and Anger, call 649-4446; for Life During Wartime, call 824-5945.

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