Monday, October 22, 2018

'Warrior Class' Examines Politicians, the Skeletons in Their Closets and Those Who Maneuver to Keep Them Hidden -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Warrior Class
by Kenneth Lin
directed by Carol Ann Tan
presented by The Comrades
at Greenhouse Theater Center, Chicago
Thru November 11

In October 2017--just a year ago--news broke about numerous allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

This led to revelations about several other celebrities--and well beyond--prompting a fall from grace for Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK and many other powerful men alleged to be sexual predators (with each case containing unique circumstances and allegations).

On social media, the #MeToo movement arose, with women--and in some cases, victimized men--around the world sharing harrowing recollections of being  objectified, harassed, abused, assaulted, groped, raped and otherwise brutalized or belittled.

And, of course, in recent weeks, U.S. Supreme Court nominee--and now Associate Justice--Brett Kavanaugh was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexually assaulting her while both were in high school.

So, with good reason, the grim reality of men--though certainly not all of them--egregiously mistreating women has been highly topical for the past year.

But even beyond allegations and crimes that date back decades, sexual misconduct is obviously far from just a current issue.

I have to assume that as long as there have been men and women, there has been abuse, or at least domination or intimidation.

So although the Comrades' production of Kenneth Lin's play, Warrior Class, about a rising politician facing allegations of misconduct from a college girlfriend, certainly feels timely--and a program note from director Carol Ann Tan confirms that the topicality is no coincidence--the drama first appeared Off-Broadway in 2012.

And just to mention it, David Mamet's Oleanna--which concerns a professor accused of sexual exploitation by one of his female students--premiered in 1992. I imagine there may well be earlier such examples.

Nonetheless, Warrior Class is a wise choice for the Comrades, and upstairs at the Greenhouse Theater Center, scenic designer Sydney Achler has concocted a fine set for the three-character play, one that splits its time between a quiet restaurant setting and the home of the politician.

That pol is Julius Lee (Ben Veatch), a Chinese-American junior Assemblyman in New York, who has caught some buzz, including being dubbed a "Republican Obama."

As the 80-minute one-act opens, Nathan (a wonderful Scott Olsen), a political consultant working on Julius' behalf, is meeting with Holly (Alison Plott), who had dated Julius for over a year in college.

Initially this seems to be a perfunctory part of the political candidate vetting process, and while Holly is clearly a tad uncomfortable, she is tight-lipped about any concerns regarding Julius. But when Nathan asks her to sign a document to that effect, she shares that things turned rather unsavory when the two of them had broken up.

I won't reveal here any specifics of Holly's allegations, which are reiterated later in the play when she
meets face-to-face with Julius.

Yet while I am sympathetic regarding her stated feelings of being terrorized, unless I misread something, Julius alleged actions--of a boyfriend angrily distraught over a breakup--were markedly different from the supposed acts of Weinstein, Lauer, Kavanaugh, et. al.

I'm not condoning what Julius purportedly did as a 20-year-old kid, nor even saying it shouldn't harm his political aspirations, but it certainly doesn't seem clear-cut.

Especially as, if I understood right, he was dealt with by authorities at the time. 

And the acute and ongoing harm done to Holly is somewhat self-undermined by an agenda she presently brings to the table: She is willing to keep quiet about Julius in exchange for a favor.

I perceive I'm adding confusion to  this review by trying to keep plot details vague, but while there is certainly artfulness in how questions of 20+ years prior are addressed from both sides, my lack of narrative clarity hampered my overall take on Warrior Class (even in allowing that the dichotomy of Julius' and Holly's perspectives and memories is part of the point).

Which isn't to say I didn't like it; I just didn't love it.

The acting, most demonstrably by Olsen, but also by Plott and Veatch, is strong.

And even though primary point of contention seems muddled, observing how a political handler like Nathan--who is also trying to get Julius, in his current role as assemblyman, to aid a power broker seeking to open a casino--operates as part of the political system is rather fascinating.

On one hand, he seems valuable in trying to gauge a candidate's viability and potential landmines. But he also seems to be serving multiple interests at once, including his own.

There is also unseen family drama for all three characters that adds some depth beyond the politics (legislative and sexual), and also makes Julius' meeting with Holly wrought with a smorgasbord of emotions that are well-rendered.

Timely, interesting and well-acted, Warrior Class should be well-worth 80 minutes of your time and, at most, $20 of your money (check HotTix for discounts).

But if you're expecting it to provide powerful voice for #MeToo victims, or even riveting debate on behalf of men who fear unfair ruination over long-forgotten misunderstandings, Lin's play proves prescient but not entirely potent. 

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