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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

 

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