Tuesday, 30 January 2018 23:45

Review: Blind Date at Goodman Theatre

Who’d have thought a Cuban-born playwright could endear an auditorium of liberals to Ronald Reagan. Rogelio Martinez’s new play ‘Blind Date’ is a fictionalized account of the very real first meeting between Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (William Dick) and President Ronald Reagan (James D. Farruggio). Robert Falls returns to the Goodman to direct this world premiere.

Billed as a comedy, some will wonder what could be funny about a world on the brink of nuclear war? As it turns out, quite a bit. ‘Blind Date’ is basically a drawing room comedy. Most of the scenes are two-person conversations between the various historic players of the time. Beginning with US Secretary of State George Schultz (Jim Ortlieb) and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze (Steve Pickering) all the way up to the fateful meeting between Gorbachev and Reagan in Geneva.

The narrative structure of this piece is interesting. In some cases, cast members speak their opinions directly to the audience. In other instances, there’s narration by way of British biographer Edmund Morris (Thomas J. Cox). The narration serves the playwright’s thesis that even his own biographer didn’t really understand Reagan. The asides are more often a conveyance for one-liners. Though, they do provide insight into the mindset of the Soviets and Americans in these meetings.

It’s no surprise that Falls has assembled some of Chicago’s foremost actors for this new play. Deanna Dunagan plays Nancy Reagan, in a nearly perfect likeness no less, while Goodman favorite Mary Beth Fisher plays Raisa Gorbachev. The two first ladies share a scene in which almost nothing of consequence is discussed, but the slight backhanded compliments and fuss made over tea bags versus loose leaf underscore how tenuous relations between the super powers were. Each thinking themselves superior in domesticity and political ideology. Scenes featuring Dunagan and Fisher are the most engaging as the dialogue sharpens to a point. What few may consider is how much influence these two women had over their husbands. Despite contradicting opinions, both sides desperately wanted to see an end to the nuclear arms race. A noble idea that has unfortunately taken a wrong turn since the mid-80s.

There’s danger in glorifying Ronald Reagan as an innocuous savior from nuclear war. His optimism regarding the Soviets was certainly helpful but in the end, the Soviet Union collapsed from a failing economy, not Reagan’s pro-Democracy initiatives. And yes, it’s easy to look at Reagan and think, at least he’s not our current president, but let’s not forget the homophobic blind eye his administration turned toward the AIDS crisis, and the lasting effects of the unsuccessful war on drugs.

This play is a lot like an average Oscar-bait movie. You know the type: polished historical drama about a specific section of history, usually starring high profile British actors like Judi Dench. Ones that you know you should see, but probably won’t. It’s okay for a play to be ephemeral. In this case, the global nuclear stakes are so high right now that it’s vital for Americans to understand how serious even the tiniest miscommunication could be. It’s important for Americans to remember what diplomacy looked like. Think of the current president’s impulsive behavior on Twitter. Rogelio Martinez’s play may make you giggle at Reagan’s loveable weirdness, but the gravity of this meeting with Gorbachev in 1986 should frighten us all. These were poor leaders who made a very smart decision. It’s a terrifying shame our current leaders would rather go back in time.

At Goodman Theatre through February 25th. 170 N Dearborn. 312-443-3811

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Performances began January 20th for Blind Date, Rogelio Martinez’s slyly comic, behind-the-scenes glimpse of two of the most powerful world leaders—Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev—directed by Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls. Martinez, “a fresh and funny talent” (Backstage) who “finds new twists on old topics” (Variety), continues his multi-play exploration of the Cold War Era with this Goodman world premiere, which features as characters some of the figures who shaped the political landscapes of the 1980s and beyond. In an era before Twitter, Tinder and 24/7 news, Ronald Reagan (Rob Riley) and Mikhail Gorbachev (William Dick) seek to thaw the seemingly intractable tension between the United States and Soviet Russia. Despite their advisors’ best efforts to keep them on track, a crafty game of one-upmanship ensues, as the world’s two most powerful leaders eschew conventional protocols to discuss pop culture and old movies—while Nancy Reagan (Deanna Dunagan) and Raisa Gorbachev (Mary Beth Fisher ) mirror their husbands’ negotiations in a passive-aggressive tango over tea and fashion choices. Blind Date appears January 20 – February 25, 2018 (opening night is Monday, January 29 at 7pm). Tickets ($20 - $75; subject to change) are available at GoodmanTheatre.org/BlindDate, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 N. Dearborn). JPMorgan Chase is the Major Corporate Sponsor, Goodman Theatre Women’s Board is the Major Production Sponsor and the Chicago Tribune is the Media Partner. Blind Date earned a New Play Award by the Edgerton Foundation. Time Warner is the Lead Supporter of New Play Development for the 2017/2018 season.
 
“My interest in the Cold War is, in some ways, my desire to understand who I was before arriving here, and who I became after,” said playwright Rogelio Martinez, who grew up in Cuba not long after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and conducted countless hours of research to develop this production. “This is not speculative fiction, not a ‘what if’ story, the events in the play did occur, but maybe not exactly in the same way as they occur on stage. It’s my job to present a set of characters and let audiences arrive at a conclusion of their own. I hope audiences will leave the theater with some hope and not just hope but agency—they as individuals can do something about today’s problems.”
 
After receiving an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation New Science and Technology Initiative Grant, Martinez wrote When Tang Met Laika, a post-Cold War space exploration play that was subsequently produced by the Denver Center. This inspired him to bring the Cold War itself on stage in a three-play cycle about the time period—Ping Pong, the first play in the trilogy, is about U.S.-China relations during the Nixon administration and was presented at The Public Theater. The second play, Born in East Berlin, tackled the impact a Bruce Springsteen concert had on East Germans just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The play was workshopped at the Atlantic Theater Company and has since been translated into both Hungarian and Romanian. The Goodman production marks the conclusion of the trilogy.
 
Falls’ cast also features Jim Ortlieb as former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz; Steve Pickering as former Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Soviet Union Eduard Shevardnadze; and Thomas J. Cox as Reagan biographer Edmund Morris. The ensemble includes Torrey Hanson, Gregory Linington and Michael Milliganand extras David Besky, McKinley Carter, Chris Daley, James D. Farruggio Sam Krey, Joe Lino, Guy Massey, Nathan Simpson, Craig Spidle and Emilio Tirri, who round out the cast as Soviet Citizens, KGB Officers, Politburo Members, White House Staff, Secret Service, American Military Officers, Journalists and others. The Creative Team includes Riccardo Hernandez (Set Designer), Amy Clark (Costume Designer), Aaron Spivey (Lighting Designer) and Richard Woodbury (Sound Designer).
 
Following Blind Date, Falls will direct a new production of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (March 10 – April 15, 2018) at the Goodman, and also remount his Lyric Opera of Chicago production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni for the Dallas Opera (April 2018). Most recently, Falls directed the world premiere of Jim McGrath’s Pamplona, starring Stacy Keach as Ernest Hemingway, and a new production of Annie Baker’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya at the Goodman.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

 

 

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