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Theatre Review (LA): Heralds by Jon Cellini at Theatre Tribe

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Shortly before the end of its run, I caught a new play called Heralds at Theatre Tribe under the direction of Stuart Rogers, the Artistic Director of the company. Mr. Rogers also has an acting studio, and his productions give some of his newer charges a chance to brush shoulders with the more experienced. While that is a noble gesture that provides students with some hands-on experience, the result for an audience is rather mixed and such is the case with the current production of Heralds.

The play is by Jon Cellini, who wrote a previous play produced by the company. It is intriguing though it doesn’t really break much new ground. The story involves the Executive Editor of a struggling newspaper, The Kansas City Herald, Joe Clark (Jeff Kerr McGivney), who has published a cartoon lampooning creationism. The cartoon eventually offends the local Christian community, headed by evangelical preacher Reverend Bob (Pete Gardener) and his ultra-conservative and rather vindictive wife Barbara (Maia Danziger at this performance). The good Reverend organizes many churches around town, along with Joe’s boss (Andrew Bloch) and the companies who advertise in the Herald, to try and bring about a retraction. Joe refuses and the ethical dilemma of journalism versus political correctness becomes the focus of the play.

No good can come of this, or so our playwright would want us to believe, and he drags in characters from the past: Socrates (Steve Hofvendahl), Galileo (John Mariano giving us his best Sopranos shtick), Sayid, an Iraqi journalist (a suffering Antonio Leon), and finally Goebbels (a very funny Peter Trencher) who tries to persuade us through humor to just go along with the public and apologize. Figuring into all this is a psychotic zealot (Heather Robinson), a wry house manager (Shane Thomas) who interrupts the play to apologize lest we be offended, Anne Tedesco playing Joe’s fiancée, and Joe’s second in command who has submitted the cartoon with his own ulterior motives.

The biggest problem of the piece is that it keeps wandering all over the place, I think in the name of keeping us on our toes, but with the effect that we are never able to get into the play except in a kind of Brechtian alienation. Also the acting styles vary from that of experienced stage actors to that of performers acting for a camera, and from naturalism to parody.

Nevertheless some of the performers are quite good and I didn’t feel at a total loss. Heralds plays at the Theatre Tribe until Dec 19.

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