Produced by: TheatreWorks
Featuring: Robert Sicular, Pun Bandhu, Delia MacDougall
Directed by: Leslie Martinson
When: October 9 through November 3, 2013
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, California
Tickets:$19-$73 (discounts available). Visit www.theatreworks.org/shows/1314-season/warriorclass or call 650-463-1960.
Politics is a dirty business
of Kenneth Lin's political drama, 'Warrior Class'
There is a pun at work in the title of Kenneth Lin's play, "Warrior Class."
First, a warrior, someone willing to do battle; in this case, in politics.
Second, a place where schooling happens.
Both things occur in this play, which TheatreWorks just opened in its California premiere at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, directed by Leslie Martinson.
The most excellent Robert Sicular stars as Nathan Berkshire, a political operative who has taken up-and-coming New York assemblyman Julius Weishan Lee under his wing.
Lee made a speech he wrote himself that went viral on YouTube, and now people are calling him "The Republican Obama" and Berkshire's job is to vet Lee for a Congressional campaign.
The fly in the ointment pops up in the person of Lee's old college girlfriend, who says Lee stalked her and scared her friends and family after they broke up.
Berkshire wants her to sign a paper essentially absolving Lee. She refuses, and the game is on between these three players.
Don't blink, because a lot happens in this play's roughly 96 minutes (including intermission).
And wow, does Lee ever get schooled.
Lee is ably played by Pun Bandhu, who was brilliant in a better play at TheatreWorks a few years ago, David Henry Hwang's "Yellow Face." His Lee is a good guy in most ways after that rough breakup during college, he joined the Marines, earned a Silver Star in Kuwait, then came back to the States and started trying to do some good in the world. He's active in his church and forces Berkshire to make the Sign of the Cross once for every time he uses the word "Jesus."
But we get to start having doubts about him, especially when we hear the ex-girlfriend's side of the story. Holly Eames, played by Delia MacDougall, shows some over-the-top letters from her old boyfriend and tells of scary things that happened. But we get to have plenty of doubts about her, too.
And Berkshire scares Lee with a racial card, spouting a list of Asian-American killers, saying "They all have your face."
So, Lee agrees to a morally questionable deal with Eames, and then things get dirtier all around, then Berkshire basically turns into Mr. Applegate, holding all the cards and everyone's souls, and then the play is over.
"I thought it should just be starting, right where it ended," said one pal of mine afterward. Well, it certainly could serve as a pilot episode of a series. We note that Lin is part of the writing crew for the political series "House of Cards" on Netflix.
As "Warrior Class" ends, we've been shown that politics is a dirty game. This is like being shown that the Pacific Ocean has some salt water in it.
What remains to be seen is whether Julius Weishan Lee is a warrior-class politician who can keep going, and continue to try to do some good in the world. That would be fodder for that TV series.
The most well-formed and interesting character is Berkshire, as performed by Sicular, who is brilliant in his first turn on a TheatreWorks stage. At first he is avuncular and charming, a guy who could sell a used car to Richard Nixon. And then he is intense and forceful, trying to force his will on the other two. By the end he is matter-of-fact evil in a practical sense, just loving the game of manipulation.
The other two roles, Lee and Eames, are not as well written, although Bundhu certainly does what he can to put some flesh on the skeleton. MacDougall is rather less successful at bringing Eames to life.
Erik Flatmo's scenic design is fabulous, and fun to watch. There is a steak house in Baltimore where Berkshire does his business, and Lee's home in New York. Using a turntable and scenic bits that drop down from and rise up to the fly loft, and slide in and out to the wings and from each other, the walls and counters and piano and popcorn machine and everything else come together and come apart like well-ordered puzzle parts. Wonderful.
Sicular, by the way, is a pretty good piano player, and Bandhu seems to be OK, too. They both play a little bit toward the end, for no apparent dramatic reason.