Review: A Great Cast Lifts The Whistleblower at Theater Wit
What if you told the truth to everyone—friends, family, people that you screwed over? Playwright Itamar Moses (The Band’s Visit) presents this question in The Whistleblower in a world premiere production. Theater Wit artistic director Jeremy Wechsler directs the play, keeping the edges sharp and the punchlines—well punchy. The premise is not only telling the truth but also how people receive the truth.
Screenwriter Eli (Ben Faigus) has been plugging away for years of drivel that barely gets produced. His agent Dan (a hilarious William Anthony Sebastian Rose II) gets Eli in front of producer Richard (Michael Kostroff) to pitch his latest idea. It’s all going well and then Eli has a revelation of some inner wisdom and decides to walk away from it all. Eli begins his hero’s journey of truth-telling and Faigus gives an okay performance as a man on a mission.
William Anthony Sebastian Rose II, Rae Gray, and Ben Faigus. Photo by Charles Osgood.
Eli is charged with waxing metaphysical about the inside not matching the outer trappings that he has pursued for years. After a couple of times explaining why he is telling the truth to the people in his life, the dialogue starts to fall flat and is rescued by the characters who think that something is wrong with him. Eli’s girlfriend Allison (Julia Alvarez) is the first person he drops the truth bomb on. Alvarez’s performance as an actor whose series may be getting canceled is inspired. It seems that Allison and her characters are never very distinguishable and are always in Grand Guignol mode.
Eli stops off to see his sister Rebecca (Rae Gray) to let her know that he is freeing himself from his old life. Gray is a chameleon playing three roles—Eli’s meth-snorting sister, Eleanor the girl whose heart he broke, and Sophie the assistant to the producer. Gray does comedy and heartbreak equally well. Kostroff plays Eli’s father Joseph who feels constantly nagged by his wife Hannah (RJW Mays). Mays and Kostroff are a great duo as the bickering couple. Hannah cannot help needing to fix things and Joseph exhorts her to leave Eli alone. Mays nails the best speech in the show about the crap that women go through because of men.
L-R Ben Faigus (on the floor), Michael Kostroff, Andrew Jessop, Julia Alvarez. Photo by Charles Osgood.
Eli is hitting bottom and visits his old friend Max (Andrew Jessop) who lives on a boat and stares at the ocean all the live long day. The scene with Eli and Max infuses manic energy into the play just when it starts to lag. Eli is starting to sound more whiny and less a carrier of the truth. Nothing like someone having a possible acid flashback delusion to lighten things up.
Rose also plays another childhood friend who is completely under his wife’s heel. I last saw him in The Tragedy of King Christophe at the last performance of the House Theatre. His two roles are an about-face from the Shakespearean tragedy about Haiti. Moses’ writing is at its best when he shows the absurdity of the Hollywood system and of those on the fringe of Eli’s life.
I got some glimpses of one of my favorite movies by Blake Edwards—SOB (1981). It is the story of people in or on the fringes of the entertainment industry, who are so self-involved that they don’t see the dead guy on the beach. Moses wrote the Eli character as having remorse that pulls the show back from the comic gems that are evident in the crackling performances. Eli comes off as a mope more than a seeker. The play needs to see more of Kostroff as the philandering producer, or Gray’s meth dealer who self-medicates for her ADD.
RJW Mays, Ben Faigus, and Michael Kostroff. Photo by Charles Osgood.
The Whistleblower made its premiere in Denver in 2019 and was workshopped by Theater Wit in New York. It has room for improvement to be the wicked satire and commentary on the entertainment business that it attempts. The cast is full of world-class actors. The production values are great. I particularly like Brian Redfern’s scenic design. It all felt very California as did Johan Gallardo’s very contemporary costume design. The tight-fitting orange suit is perfect for a California agent and very au courant. In other words, no everyday person could get away with it.
I recommend The Whistleblower to see some of Chicago’s best actors doing their thing at Theater Wit. Hopefully, as the production goes along a few adjustments will be made, like less tortured introspection and more Hollywood producer machinations and self-medicating for ADD with meth. There are inspired characters who deserve more of the spotlight.
The Whistleblower runs through June 17 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont in the Lakeview neighborhood. Running time is 85 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $18-$55. For more information please visit www.theaterwit.org.
For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.
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