With a shrewd sense of the moment, TimeLine has crafted a catchy, slimy, and slightly salacious comedy about an intriguing piece of American political history: the meteoric 1934 contest for governor of California between Republican Frank Merriam and famed author socialist Upton Sinclair. .
“Campaigns, Inc.” by playwright and actor Will Allan. looks at the two political consultants, Leone Baxter (Tyler Meredith) and Clem Whitaker (Yuriy Sardarov), who ran Merriam’s campaign and who, if they didn’t invent the political smear campaign, certainly did taken to a previously unknown level that the defeated author of “The Jungle” liked to call them “the lie factory”. The pair, in then-infancy professions, used direct mail to throw Sinclair (Anish Jethmalani) into a political blitzkrieg of an intensity California voters had never seen before.
Perhaps most egregiously, the pair opened up Sinclair’s novels, found quotes from his most annoying fictional contestants, and attributed them directly to the author, who was left with the nigh-impossible task of trying to… explain to a confused electorate why authors should give voice to people with opinions different from their own.
We live in moralistic times in theater – satire scares a lot of theater people these days – and Allan sometimes falls into the trap of preaching the obvious rather than letting the audience make those decisions for themselves. And he simultaneously wants his audience to sympathize with the sexism Baxter faces while presumably hating what she chooses to do and who she chooses to work for. It’s quite a needle to thread and it would have been better to let the character’s actions speak for themselves, especially given the fabulously determined and sardonic performance delivered here by Meredith, who has the right classic 1930s style in freezing cold.
It has incredible backing from Terry Hamilton at full throat as Merriam, Mark Ulrich as the sleazy sidekick every political comedy needs and, surprisingly, a most interesting twist from Dave Honigman as the sidekick. of Sinclair, Charlie Chaplin, who deals with his own problems as technology threatened the popularity of his silent tramp. David Parkes plays everyone from Louis B. Mayer to FDR, all in service of the play’s central argument that politics has always been a boys club of patting someone on the back to get a shot useful in return.
Considering the short scenes, I think this world premiere should come with an intermission (there’s an obvious place for one) and the interval chatter would be part of the fun here. But it’s great to see Bowling’s snappy directing style in TimeLine’s longtime intimate home, combined with hilarious retro Anthony Churchill projections that come with as many gags and Easter eggs as the script itself. -same. And, of course, it’s great to watch a world premiere of this quality made in Chicago.
The TimeLine Wednesday night audience loved this show to the point that I found myself surrounded on the street by people delivering unsolicited messages. good words raves in the same coupé style I had just looked at.
One of them, I was told, was even a modern-day political consultant, obviously enjoying watching the thread.
Chris Jones is a reviewer for the Tribune.
Review: “Campaigns, Inc.” (3.5 stars)
When: until September 18
Where: TimeLine Theater, 615 W. Wellington Ave.
Tickets: $42 to $57 at 773-281-8463 and at timelinetheatre.com