American Blues Theater at Greenhouse Theater Center. By Christina Gorman. Directed by Steve Scott. With Mick Weber, Cheryl Graeff, Terry Hamilton, Jordan Brodess, Steve Key. 2hrs; one intermission.
Theater review by Gwen Purdom
For the academically-inclined, a passionate professor can reveal a new world in a lecture hall, ignite a latent fire of curiosity or bring mind-numbing chapters of text to vibrant life. That kind of influence, however, needs to be wielded with great care.
In American Blues Theater’s premiere of American Myth, the winner of the theater's 2012 Blue Ink Playwriting Award, Peter Finnerty (Jordan Brodess) is a student under the spell of one such educator, the great Dr. Douglas Graham (an understated Mick Weber), until he discovers the prof may be blurring the legendary history he teaches with his own.
Playwright Christina Gorman deftly imagines a timeless moral and ethical struggle through a contemporary lens—the splashy TV newsbite scandal of the Oprah versus James Frey variety. By threading the drama with Graham’s fiery historic lectures, the script creates thought-provoking parallels and tension between the American past of the textbooks he teaches with Graham’s personal experiences—motifs the talented cast artfully grasps. Weber stands out as Graham, glowing with bookish but humble charm. Cheryl Graeff as his wife, Lanie, exudes a similar quiet control and, later, a careful tortured strength.
The only trouble is, the career- and life-ruining stakes the play seems to be built on don’t actually feel all that career- and life-ruining. Yes, in today’s controversy-saturated society the smallest public misstep can result in utter catastrophe, but the exaggerations Graham is accused of here, feel like just that—exaggerations. The truth that Brodess’s weasely journalist is on the hunt for never feels like the scoop it’s made out to be, particularly when his subject was once his hero. Most would likely need a more explosive injustice to make throwing one’s mentor under the bus seem plausible. Had the situation and performance felt more authentic, the already intriguing moral questions the production raises could have matured to fully absorbing.