Sunday, October 3, 2021

Personal and political intersections: Storefront Theatre closes out its vivid production of' '1980'

Wary of weighing in on a theater production in its next-to-last performance, I nonetheless accepted director Ronan Marra's invitation to see "1980: Or, Why I'm Voting for John Anderson" Saturday night at Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis.

Will, Robin, and Kathleen look over an itinerary.

I've been curious about the Broad Ripple company, which has occupied space along a partly unoccupied southern stretch of Broad Ripple Avenue since 2019. The spacious underground home of the company has a performance space that suited this play's  bare-bones campaign-office setting. I look forward to seeing how it might suit much different presentations; technically, the place seems up to speed as far as lighting is concerned. The audience sits on opposite sides of the playing area. I chose the north, and wish I'd thought to move to the south for the second act to check how well the cast was playing to each.

Patricia Cotter's script takes in a wide range of cultural and political issues, some of which continue to drive conversations and divisions forty years later. The comedy is richly mordant and reflects the confusion of the four characters as they try to square personal turmoil with their political dedication to the independent presidential campaign of an Illinois congressman.

Will and Brenda get better acquainted.
Anderson was a lodestar for voter disaffection with American politics in the wake of Watergate. To bring race and class and (dimly) identity politics to the forefront indicated the gathering storm that engulfs us today. What constitutes "victory" in a quest to counter the dominant two-party system has long been an issue apart from the ones I've mentioned. No wonder the shadow of personal failure also hangs over Cotter's four young characters, ages 19 to mid-30s. Anderson was like a steady, wise dad — "Father Knows Best" on the stump.

It serves little purpose, given the show's last performance this afternoon, to venture into detailed scrutiny of what I saw Saturday. Into a barely functional Boston office comes a representative of Anderson's Chicago office, unannounced and thus immediately productive of tension and racialized  resistance. Will (Jamaal McCray) exacerbates the power play between staffers Brenda (Bridget Haight) and Robin (Chelsea Anderson) and raises the tremulous anxiety of Kathleen (Carly Wagers), who's joined the crew for academic credit.

All the cast, especially the women, had their portrayals keyed to a high pitch vocally and gesturally. They were camera-ready in the sense that, though thoroughly stageworthy, they could have worked well in close-ups and from other camera angles. Physical carriage is vital to individualizing characters, and this production is attentive to it. Seen in full, the cast was impressive in how well-integrated the characterizations were, and how smoothly dialogue and movement worked together. 

Because of how the relationship between Will and Brenda develops, it would have been good for the woman's Boston accent to be more consistent, since Will early on voices his annoyance with how he hears Bostonians talk. Of course, he has more substantial issues to deal with, but the troubled Brenda could have usefully sounded a little more alien to the skeptical Midwesterner who rattles her already shaky world. The language gap is among the disturbances in their first encounter and would have been worth sustaining after the other awkwardnesses were overcome. In romantic comedy, which "1980" is in part, meet-cute resonance never fades.

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