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|A CurtainUp ReviewBAFO
The press release for BAFO described it as being in the tradition of Stonewall Jackson, (see link at the end of this review), also performed in the American Place Theatre's 75-seat basement space. Any chance to see another no-holds-barred contemporary satire is not one I'm likely to pass up.
Regretfully, while BAFO is timely and not without merit, it isn't boffo. And while it does indeed tap into the politically incorrect inner landscape of a certain professional class -- white, middle class and nose-to-the-grindstone men in dinosaur careers -- it lacks the zany dramatic thrust and surprises of Stonewall Jackson. Much excellent dialogue notwithstanding BAFO leaves us more with a sense of having watched six talking heads in search of a play, than a play with the force and freshness to rise above its polemical roots.
Playwright Tom Strelich is to be commended for tackling the very real dilemma of men faced with being the debris left behind by the hurricane of escalating social change. He differentiates them just enough to leave us wondering what it takes to drive one such dinosaur over the edge of sanity and then sets up a situation that echoes similar bizarre events reported in tabloids and on the ten o'clock news headlines, is something we can longer beyond belief.
After flashing projections of images of past symbols of American prosperity and achievement on a wall screen -- from space launches to Disneyland -- the play introduces us to four veteran employees of a military contractor. If they don't nail down a new government project, they may soon join the ranks of the growing legion of overeducated downsized professionals. The first man we see is craggy-faced, twangy-voiced Willie Pert (Christopher Wynkoop) who rouses himself from a desk nap for a series of sardonic diatribes that include blacks, immigrants, men getting in touch with their feminine side, white men as minorities and everyone and everything else contributing to the upset of his red-white-and-blue apple cart. Next follows white-haired Clay (Tom Ligon) who still has the upright bearing of a former officer. To complete the foursome there's Ashe (Kent Broadhurst) who dumps a bag of mugs commemorating past contracts and Sayles (Beau Gavitte), the youngest member of the group, the one with the interpersonal P.R. skills.
Trouble is that even Sayles is having difficulty targeting the "threat" that has always been the deal closer. While his older colleagues rumble and grumble about changes they don't know how to deal with, Sayles who doesn't have the cushion of a nice air force pension (like Clay) desperately insists on pushing forward. "Everybody's a threat" he declares as he tries to nudge some worthwhile input from the others. "Give us one more defense boon and we won't piss it away." Ashe hopefully suggest that "maybe something in this Iraq thing will pan out." It's clear that while Ashe has physical weaknesses, (such as a tendency to hiccup, and under extreme stress, to vomit), this once strong ship of nerds is today a mighty weak vessel.
Some of the interaction and personal revelations accompanying the men's efforts to figure out how they got to this outsider-looking-in-state and how they can find some way "to set themselves apart from the herd" is a laugh out loud funny, especially Willie Peet's input. When he states tht he never would have moved to California to begin with if his wife hadn't wanted to go to film school he spits out "film school" as if he'd accidentally chewed a piece of hot pepper. Having established the war room mentality of these men desperate for one more crisis to boost military spending, Mr. Strelich now brings things to a boil with a fifth defense industry has-been named P. J. (Sam Freed) -- this one already ousted from his job and now gone postal. He's a threat all right, but not exactly the one they've been looking for.
I won't tell you whether the shooter's gun goes off, Or what part the only woman in the play, a black ex-Marine (Jill Marie Lawrence) plays in bringing this serio-comic melodrama to its conclusion. What I will tell you is that even after the explosive P. J. enters the proposal room, the discussion of issues continues. Sayles quivers and quakes. Wilie Peet and Clay submit to P.J.'s manic commands. Ashe hiccups and vomits into the plastic lined waste basket. In short, even when played out at gunpoint, BAFO is as much about talk as about terror.
The cast does its best with the types rather than characters they portray. Christopher Wykoop is especially good as the outspoken, bolo-tied Willie Pert and Beau Gravitate is fine as the flannel-mouthed Sayles. But it's Jill Marie Lawrence who stands out as a seething but controlled cauldron of contempt.
The play also has nice production values, especially Robert Mitchell's handsome and serviceable set. Perhaps if director Robert Kalfin and the playwright had been willing to tighten the ninety minutes to an hour, BAFO would have escaped turning into a somewhat repetitious melo-dramatized debate. With so many one-acters begging for a chance to be performed, it would hardly have been a problem to find a second play that would work as a partner for this one.
To read our review of Stonewall Jackson also produced at the American Place downstairs space