A year ago, Pillsbury House Theatre put on a searching collection of playlets, “The Great Divide: Plays for a Broken Nation,” that plumbed themes from the fissures made manifest by the election of President Donald Trump.
The playhouse is back with a second installment of its conversation-starting series. “The Great Divide II: Plays on the Politics of Truth” opened Wednesday just as the president was bragging about fabricating a trade deficit in a meeting with Canada’s prime minister.
The 90-minute show has the same nimble acting quartet as last year, along with DJ Chamun (Chamindika Wanduragala), who provides music between the vignettes. But the director (Nöel Raymond) and several writers are newcomers to the series.
Landing at a time when “post-truth,” “alternative fact” and “fake news” have become part of the everyday dialogue, these short plays dramatize political themes without being overtly polemical.
Various characters are named Redacted (anonymous sources?) in playwright Jessica Huang’s “The Journalist’s Creed: (Actual) E-mails From a (Brief) Career in News,” the rhythmically jerky piece that kicks off the evening. Audrey Park plays a reporter named Jessica Huang while Ricardo Vazquez, Mikell Sapp and Tracey Maloney play a revolving cast of characters. E-mails are quoted like breaking-news headlines in this playlet about journalistic ethics. In Huang’s jaded view, journalism is a world in which getting the story supersedes everything, including values and integrity. A reporter makes up quotes for the mayor and sources can’t withdraw their stories.
The funniest of the five pieces, Stacey Rose’s “Sven, Ole, & the Armageddon Myth,” concerns some hipsters losing their composure at an end-of-the-world party. Three co-workers visit the apartment of Wendell (Sapp) to get stoned and have drinks as they await the apocalypse. Park plays a lesbian who has a hetero assignation with Wendell to find out whether she’s been missing anything (nope), while the other two characters comfort each other with Ole and Lena jokes, which Wendell thinks are racist. Sirens sound intermittently. Wendell turns out to be bent on revenge, and perhaps he has taken a note from the recent nuclear-missile scare in Hawaii.
Christina Ham goes at the politics of truth from a historical perspective with her play “Mt. Rushmore.” A party of people visit the national monument as it crumbles, in part because of the nation’s foundational lies. (We don’t see the crumbling, just hear it, thanks to sound designer Katharine Horowitz.)
Playwright Andrew Rosendorf comes at the overarching theme of the politics of truth by talking about climate change. While those words are never used in “Breathe,” we watch the suffering of a starving polar bear — an evocative puppet created by Masanari Kawahara and manipulated by Park, Vazquez and Sapp.
And while his piece is somewhat unclear, playwright Tim Lord has fun with “Wild Creatures,” about survival, gender differences and people reverting to primal states. We may be living in an era of technological advances, but Lord suggests the past is prologue.
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