Playwright: Paul Notice. At: MPAACT at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336; www.mpaact.org; $15-$23. Runs through: March 3
Paul Notice's play may be set in the slippery milieu of politics, but its true theme lies in the currently-fashionable jeremiads lamenting the expectations of privilege exercised by today's youth. What parents who would deny their offspring's potentialperhaps recalling the disappointment faced by their likewise ego-driven baby-boom progenitorsoverlook is the connection between self-esteem and moral responsibility. If meritorious deeds no longer promise reward, why concern ourselves with ethics?
This danger is illustrated in a 75-minute parable recounting the progress of bright young political-science student Charles, whose recently authored legislative proposal cites solutions for improving conditions among our country's populace. His motives are not entirely unselfishthe intern hopes that his genius will earn him a permanent position on his Congressman's campaign staff. When his employer shamelessly steals his idea, advising the indignant lad to "be less trusting," Charles' father affirms the competitive nature of the world. ("There's lots of leaves on the tree," he cautions his son, "you're not the only one.") Heeding his elders' counsel, our pilgrim proceeds to implement unscrupulous stratagems toward his own advancement, eventually achieving his goal of a lucrative jobworking for the opposing party and arguing against his original plan. As he contemplates his betrayal of friends and principles, he shrugs off his discomfort with a resigned "Huh! I'm only a leaf in a forest!"
Audiences might be forgiven their anticipation of an epiphany leading our protagonist to repent his inhumane ways. We wait in vain, however, for a feel-good resolution to Notice's excoriation of a society elevating ruthless pragmatism above honest disclosure. (At one point, Charles threatens to "out" a closeted anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, ethnic-minority candidate to his conservative constituency, only to have the savvy statesman blithely spin his image to embrace both openly gay and repressive-right values.)
Whether you find Notice's cynicism commendable or appalling is your own decision, but there's no denying the courage of MPAACT director Carla Stillwell and a cast led by Trigney Morgan as the innocent Charles, who refuse to take refuge in hyperbolic just-kidding-folks exaggeration, instead tracking the corruption of our idealistic hero with an irony-free solemnity that makes his descent into greedhead tactics seem almost acceptable. Almost.