Jason Wells’ play, The North Plan debuted in 2012, but, in Ion Theatre’s production it seems to have been written just last week.
Rooted in the Reagan era, The North Plan imagines that a U. S. President representing a fringe constituency declared a State of National Emergency in conjunction with an invasion of another country. The plan authorized the U. S. military to round up those considered to be security threats, meaning dissidents and resisters. Plans along these lines were detailed in press accounts published during the Iran-Contra scandal. The administration’s mastermind, Marine Lt. Colonel Oliver North, reportedly wanted these plans for potential use during an invasion of Nicaragua, should U. S. support of the Contra rebels fail to overthrow that country’s Marxist government.
Mr. Wells imagines that such a plan has been activated, and Department of Homeland Security agents are combing the country looking for people to send to camps. Carlton Berg (Daren Scott), a self-described mid-level State Department officer, has gained access to a list of those in the resistance. His attempt to get the information he has obtained to a journalist friend has landed him in the tiny Southwest Missouri town of Lodus. Thrown into a holding cell, he encounters Tanya Shepke (Samantha Ginn), a local woman, who has gone to the police station to report that she had been driving drunk the night before. The police have scoffed but then detained her on an outstanding warrant. The two are guarded by Shonda Cox (Tina Machele Brown), a police employee who normally handles paperwork, because Chief Swenson (Don Loper) is busy trying to deal with insistent Homeland Security officers.
Tanya is incensed at being detained and doesn’t cotton much to sharing her cell with Carlton, either. But, Carlton manages to convince her to help him and tells her where he has hidden the flash drive with the information.
Eventually, two Homeland Security officers (Fred Hunting and Jake Rosko) show up, and the play’s style moves from comic thriller to dark farce. From then on out, lots of plot points don’t make much sense, and mistaken assumptions lead to tragic consequences.
Of course, there’s no real evidence of conspiracy, in one form or another, just lots of lines that amount to red meat for anyone unhappy with the current U. S. administration – including a rather timely assertion that if anything goes wrong the President will simply issue a pardon to the perpetrators. (I asked afterward if the line had been added and was assured that it was in the script.)
Director Isaac Fowler plays the absurdity seriously, which results in mostly chuckles early on and laughter of disbelief later. There is quite a bit of overlapping dialogue, much of it between Ms. Ginn and Mr. Scott, that was played at the press opening as “anything you can say, I can say louder.” More of a roundelay would have brought out the humor and played better on the ears. Later, Ms. Ginn proves once again that she is a fine physical comedian as she tries to carry out the plot that Mr. Scott has hatched for her.
Ms. Brown is a model of resignation, trying her best to bring order from chaos so she can return to the book she keeps picking up to read. Mr. Loper doesn’t have a lot to do, but his character is the only “sensible” one to be found. Mr. Rosko plays true to type, and Mr. Hunting gets some knowing laughs with his gripes about being the underappreciated member of the “team.”
Jonathan Gilmer’s scenic design switches from the holding cell to a nearby office during the intermission. The other designers (Mary Summerday, costumes, Michelle Yan Xiao, lighting, Abbie Howard, properties) do professional-level work on a limited budget.
Despite its many resonances with the contemporary political scene, The North Plan probably won’t catch on as a play that helps define the “alt-left.” Rather, it may well be viewed as a cautionary, if absurdist, morality tale, prodding its viewers to persist nevertheless.
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