Tuesday, January 30, 2018

When Ronny Met Misha: At Least From My Perspective, Goodman's 'Blind Date' Goes Rather Poorly -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Blind Date
a world premiere play by Rogelio Martinez
directed by Robert Falls
Thru Feb. 25

Some blind dates go wonderfully; others not so much.

And conceivably, the two parties who find themselves on one might perceive it quite differently. 

Which is my diplomatic way of hoping that others attending Rogelio Martinez's new play, titled Blind Date, at Chicago's Goodman Theatre under the direction of esteemed artistic director, Robert Falls, are far more smitten than me.

But from my point of view, things began tepidly and then--after becoming a bit more beguiling--this Blind Date almost interminably missed several prime ending points that could have brought closure, sans love but also without much animus.

I have no problem with the play's premise, which chronicles the first meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev--officially the General Secretary of the Communist Party--in Geneva, Switzerland in 1985.

Never had I seen a dramatic work about this specific event, and plays about political figures of relatively recent vintage are rather rare.

Photo credit on all: Liz Lauren
So certainly welcome, at least in theory.

And though--then and now--I didn't much concur with Reagan's politics, his somewhat bemused but largely sympathetic portrayal (literally in this case by Rob Riley, who does a nice job in the role) didn't much impact my theatrical enjoyment...or lack thereof.

But other than fine depictions of U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz (by Jim Ortlieb) and Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Shevardnadze (by Steve Pickering) in setting up the meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev (William Dick), not much of import or enticement seems to happen in the show's first act.

Separately, we get to know a bit about the two leaders and their wives, Nancy Reagan (the terrific Deanna Dunagan) and Raisa Gorbachev (another stellar local stalwart, Mary Beth Fisher), albeit almost nothing that's riveting.

Through conversations Reagan has with his biographer, Edmund Morris (Thomas J. Cook), we learn that he is awed by his responsibility over the nuclear strike button, and we get a chuckle as Shevardnadze tells Gorbachev of the ex-movie star President's affinity for quoting--and often misquoting--famed lines from Hollywood films.

But after all of Act I sets up the actual meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev, Act II still takes some time before getting to it.

Ostensibly, an acerbic meeting between Nancy and Raisa is a highlight of Blind Date for some LOL jibes between the two.

But is showing a pair of powerful, smart, accomplished women being nothing but catty to each other really necessary?

I found it insulting and pointless, other than to give two fine actresses some juicy lines to utter. 

Once Ronny actually meets Misha, things get a bit more interesting but while their discussions fostered some Cold War thawing that clearly impacted the future, the acute dramatics of their interchanges weren't all that great.

And after an obvious conclusion--coinciding with the two leaders wrapping up talks with a touch of warmth--the play just keeps going for 20+ minutes in ways I found completely unnecessary and rather irritating.

Even the title, Blind Date, seems metaphorically suspect, as Reagan obviously knew who Gorbachev was when he sent a letter--through Shultz--inviting him to meet.

I know it's meant to be a lighthearted title, but its cheekiness winds up undermining what is--at its best--a straightforward geopolitical snapshot.

A 21-person cast seems far more than the core material really needs, but--as usual at Goodman--all of the acting is stellar.

My favorite aspect of Blind Date was in seeing old pros like Dick, Riley, Dunagan, Fisher, Pickering and Ortlieb onstage once again, clearly doing their best with the material provided. 

The set design by Riccardo Hernandez is quite striking and mechanically rather nifty.

So there's a good bit to appreciate beyond the narrative itself, and--though post-show word-of-mouth reaction was largely aligned with mine--it's not impossible to imagine many liking this Blind Date considerably more than I did.

But I was rather relieved when it was--finally!-- over.

And, with polite regard simply for the attempt, I'm pretty sure I won't recall it much.

Certainly not fondly.

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