Mickle Maher doubles down on his Jim Lehrer character in an esoteric sequel to ‘The Strangerer.’
Like many of playwright Mickle Maher’s works, Jim Lehrer…. begins with an idea as high-concept as it is silly. In this case, it’s reviving the character of Jim Lehrer—Maher’s fictionalized version of the PBS newsman and debate moderator, as used in 2008’s The Strangerer—and, with a nod to theatrical theoretician Antonin Artaud, literally doubling him. We meet Jim Lehrer (Colm O’Reilly), retired and lonely, narrating the miniscule news of his day to non-existent cameras while puzzling over a local voters’ poll that’s been dropped off at his door. He’s soon joined by Jim Lehrer (Brian Shaw), would-be playwright, who returns home from the opening night of his new work bloodied and bruised by a frenzied audience.
Maher is playing with Poe as much as Artaud here; Lehrer II’s mysterious stage work seems to have unloosed something primal and hungry into the world in a more literal sense than Artaud’s noted essay “The Theatre and Its Double” would suggest. The piece drifts toward inscrutability for about a third of its length, as the two Lehrers quibble over their shared existence and the nature of the threat they face—it’s less clear here than in the fascinating Strangerer, which took the 2004 Bush-Kerry presidential debate off the rails, what Lehrer has to say about our current political moment. At 75 minutes, the play feels a good 20 minutes too long; this feels like a case where Theater Oobleck’s famously director-free aesthetic could have used some outside guidance. But there’s still plenty of stimulating material to chew on here, with an endearing mix of intellectual and goofy. O’Reilly’s deadpan mastery of the real Lehrer’s no-nonsense news voice is nearly worth the whole endeavor.
Theater Oobleck at Chopin Theatre. By Mickle Maher. With Colm O’Reilly, Brian Shaw. Running time: 1hr 15mins; no intermission.