Chicago Theater Review: CARLYLE (Goodman Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 12, 2016

in Theater-Chicago

A STUDY IN SPITE BECOMES A PUERILE HISSY FIT

The joke’s on us in Thomas Bradshaw’s 75-minute Carlyle. Goodman Theatre’s premiere is agit-prop theater, a trifle that contains more guts and nerve than wit or heart. Purportedly a kick-off rally for the title character’s bid to be a Republican senator from Illinois, it opens with a promo: The backstage video sets up the show, a live-action enactment of Carlyle Meyers’s life story. His “hero journey” will then segue into a triumphal campaign sendoff.

Charlette Speigner (Ensemble), Patrick Clear (Ensemble), Levenix Riddle (Omar), Tiffany Scott (Janice), James Earl Jones II (Carlyle Meyers), Tim Edward Rhoze (Carlyle’s Father), Nate Whelden (Ensemble) and Maureen Gallagher (Ensemble) in Carlyle at Goodman Theatre.

What follows is a blatantly familiar portrait of an un-compassionately conservative African-American right-winger, performed in real time at a major Chicago theater. In Bradshaw’s illustrated lecture, James Earl Jones II manically depicts an unwitting token. Carlyle rationalizes his sell-out by supposedly exposing liberal hypocrisy, the paternalism of affirmative action, as well as the presumed racism behind anti-poverty activism, gun control, the war against rape, and the desire of women to control their bodies.

Tim Edward Rhoze (Carlyle’s Father) and Charlette Speigner (Ensemble) in Carlyle by Thomas Bradshaw, directed by Benjamin Kamine at Goodman Theatre.

No clay pigeon or self-skewering race traitor, Bradshaw’s lawyer/candidate works overtime to justify his un-meteoric rise from the patronage of a prominent father (Tim Edward Rhoze), an affluent Wall Street banker, to prominence in the “Party of No.” Never questioning the destiny of entitlement, Carlyle and hired actors depict his GOP genesis. There’s his predictable preferment at prep school, his troubled stint at Harvard Law, and political grooming for a D.C. run for the roses.

Levenix Riddle (Omar), James Earl Jones II (Carlyle Meyers) in Carlyle by Thomas Bradshaw, directed by Benjamin Kamine at Goodman Theatre.

Along the way our supply-side, trickle-down Carlyle learns to distrust condescending white colleagues, loathe diversity as a pity party, and oppose welfare, food stamps and government help as drugs for dependency and crutches for losers. Carlyle can’t even claim the pathos of being caught between two worlds: Except for rap music and cocaine, he knows nothing of the ghetto and glories in this ignorance. Of course, his favorite educational institution is the Electoral College.

Levenix Riddle (Omar), James Earl Jones II (Carlyle Meyers) and Charlette Speigner (Ensemble) in Carlyle by Thomas Bradshaw, directed by Benjamin Kamine at Goodman Theatre.

It’s no surprise that Carlyle, along with his Caucasian trophy-wife Janice (Tiffany Scott), loathes Anita Hill and reveres Clarence Thomas. Reflexively and defensively, he launches a misogynistic, pitbull attack on the disgraced accuser of the Supreme Court justice, while praising the taciturn Thomas for supplying the swing vote that ushered in Bush’s failures–the war in Iraq, Katrina-sized neglect, the Patriot Act, and the redistribution of wealth from bottom and middle right to the undeserving top. Carlyle all but owns these curses. The play’s most manipulative “put on” is a pseudo audience interaction: Carlyle presides over a polarized press conference, sprewing hate speech and fending off epithets from plants in the crowd.

James Earl Jones II (Carlyle Meyers) and Tiffany Scott (Janice) in Carlyle by Thomas Bradshaw, directed by Benjamin Kamine at Goodman Theatre.

But he has some new curses to deliver: Blaming the victims, his platform advocates shortening the time in which women can report rapes to the cops, providing guns for everyone so that gays and bigots will enjoy a level killing field, and ending affirmative action forever. Oh, but he’s not so bad: He denounces Donald Trump as a fascist fraud. Like Bradshaw’s Mary, another Goodman provocation that provided a lightning rod for audience prejudices, Carlyle ends with a defiant call to reactionary arms.

Maureen Gallagher and Patrick Clear in Carlyle by Thomas Bradshaw, directed by Benjamin Kamine at Goodman Theatre.Audacious and bold, Bradshaw, it seems, has created a monster of our making: There will be no reckoning to crush Carlyle. This is hit-and-run one-act, a dreary rant with nothing to offer but the right to wallow in despair.

If only it were that easy. Or that Carlyle had enough Swiftian flair, Brechtian urgency, and Voltairean irony to carry off its sadistic experiment in negative psychology. (Bradshaw instead just reinvents what Tom Wolfe called “Mau-Mauing the flak-catchers,” i.e, baiting the bleeding hearts.) Despite incendiary work from director Benjamin Kamine and a demonically driven ten-member cast, this audience instigation feels particularly perverse right now: When politics has bottomed out as badly as it’s sunk in the spring of 2016, any attempt by art to imitate life becomes an exercise in futility or a rehearsal for more rage to come. Or, as also here, a mind-numbing litany of cable-news clichés, Aaron Sorkin Lite.

James Earl Jones II (Carlyle Meyers) and Tim Edward Rhoze (Carlyle’s Father) in Carlyle by Thomas Bradshaw, directed by Benjamin Kamine at Goodman Theatre.

The late Mayor Daley used to say, “What trees do they plant?” It was an obvious distraction from his “shoot to kill” law enforcement and 1968 “police riot.” But it’s no more cynical than Bradshaw’s toxic taunting of a captive audience. If this puerile hissy fit is what it takes to wake up a complacent crowd, the cure’s far worse than the disease.

James Earl Jones II (Carlyle Meyers), Maureen Gallagher (Ensemble), Tiffany Scott (Janice) and Nate Whelden (Ensemble) in Carlyle by Thomas Bradshaw, directed by Benjamin Kamine at Goodman Theatre.

James Earl Jones II (Carlyle Meyers) in Carlyle by Thomas Bradshaw, directed by Benjamin Kamine at Goodman Theatre (April 2 – May 1, 2016).photos by Liz Lauren

Carlyle
Goodman Theatre
Owen Theatre, 170 North Dearborn
ends on May 1, 2016
for tickets, call 312.443.3800 or visit Goodman

for more theater info, visit Theatre in Chicago

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