Spec. Theatrical Review

Michael David Mohr

Tom Grimes' brisk-paced play, Spec., first appeared onstage fourteen years ago as an indictment of American imperialism following the "conclusion" of Operation Desert Storm. A few short presidential terms and a world-altering terrorist attack later, American foreign policy stubbornly refuses to adapt to circumstance. Thus, in a revival of sorts, Spec. has been brought back to the stage via the Alliance Repertory Company with only the minimal necessary changes having been made to the script itself.

From the beginning, it's our job as the audience to catch up with what is going on, and the actors do a wonderful job making unlikely conversations believable. As Ted, Tim Abell, blessed with some very funny lines, humanizes what could be incorrectly perceived as a two-dimensional character. Through his conversation with the mysterious Browner (played by the slightly rigid Mark Sivertsen), we gather that plans are being laid for a movie to be shot. The location selection (unspecified locale in the Middle East) troubles Ted, an investment banker charged with producing the film, but the money is just too good.

The first act continues at an even pace, the story begins to enjoyably unfold. However, the question of whether or not this is an actual movie production or perhaps a front for darker activities remains. Credit is due to Spec. director Scott Campbell, who masterfully establishes the power hierarchy among the characters. The way that Al (LeMay) orders around Mike (Gregori) contrasts nicely against his relationship with the suave, in control Ted. Rod Rowland, commitedly portraying a gritty, swaggering pilot with questionable morals, rounds out the cast. When Browning (Sivertsen) calls in a favor, he becomes the last addition to a decidedly interesting cast of characters and the final clue to the big question of "what is really going on here?"

I won't do you the disservice of spoiling anything, for the second act is full of fun surprises that must be experienced first-hand to be effective.

Spec. is an exciting play that engages its audience more and more each moment as the plot unravels in a slow burn. Grimes has placed the current state of the world under a microscope and examined it, criticized it and with Spec. he shows us what he sees with humor and wit. I found myself wishing I could have had the opportunity to see the first staging, if only to contrast it with the current format. The most obvious changes would probably be the deft pop culture references (Radiohead, Harry Potter). The fact that after fourteen years it is still as relevant as it was in 1990 is perhaps the most sobering thought of all.

In this time of political urgency, it is common to approach anything that deals with issues of war and national policy with hesitancy. Despite this, I feel that Spec. can be enjoyed on more than one level, and it does not set out to be overtly on any one side of the political fence. Do not play it off on account of your personal political beliefs. It's a piece that knows its purpose is not to polarize its audience, but to entertain and enlighten. To quote Al, "Now this would make a great movie!"