Friday, October 21, 2016

MEN OF TORTUGA: What's a Little Corporate Murder If It Keeps the Stockholders Happy?

Men of Tortuga

Assassination as a business strategy is, one hopes, not too common a practice. But for the high-level muckety-mucks gathered in the conference room that serves as the setting for Living Room Theatre’s funny-scary production of Jason Well’s toothy satire Men of Tortuga, it seems to be the last best opportunity for defending themselves against an apparently ruthless rival. 

The play, on view at TADA! Theater, opens with three upper-tier management types in a secret meeting with a man called Taggart (Ken Forman). Think of him as their assassination consultant. He’s there to help them work out a plan to annihilate their unnamed enemy before some unspecified deal takes place (a really hostile takeover, perhaps?). The head honcho, Kit (Curzon Dobell), absolutely loathes their target, and the other two, Tom (Allen McCullough) and Jeff (Benim Foster), can see no other option but to take him out. 

In exploring their options, Taggart makes the strongest possible case for raising the firepower well beyond what the others believe is called for. “You can’t just put your man in the crosshairs and let fly,” he explains, not if you want to be absolutely certain of success.  As the evening progresses, the plan to eliminate this one man evolves into a complicated scheme that includes a missile, poison gas, a suicide killer, and a briefcase rigged like something out of a James Bond movie.   

If this all sounds disturbing, it is. But it is also very funny in an absurdist sort of way as the plot gets more and more convoluted and the schemers dig deeply into their psyches in order to justify what is turning into a plan for a mass killing spree. As Taggart rhetorically puts it, “Would they have nuked Berlin to get Hitler?” 

While all this is going on, a second front opens up as a lower-level wonk, Allan (Michael Broadhurst), tries to sell Kit on a compromise plan that will perhaps save the corporation but which will also grant concessions to their archenemy. It becomes Kit’s burden to decide how they should proceed. But the deeper they all march into the mire, the harder it is for him to commit one way or the other. 

In the end, Kit chooses an irreversible path and leaves the others to face the consequences of the conspiracy. Not that they are too worried, even if they are caught red-handed. After all, as Jeff notes, “it’s not like we screwed our stockholders.”

That’s a line that should reverberate in today’s climate, where unscrupulous business practices are being met with greater public awareness and cynicism. Under Randolyn Zinn’s fine-tuned direction, the five cast members do a beautiful job of balancing the twin foci of the alarming nature of the murderous plot and their increasingly farcical behavior. 

Men of Tortuga, the meaning of whose title is elusive but calls to mind the kind of cryptic titles favored by David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross; Speed-the-Plow), was first produced in 2005 at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. It was well received at the time as a dark dig on cutthroat business practices. However, in the ensuing years, our growing understanding of the tactics of actual terrorism adds another layer to the goings-on, with conversations about hand-held missile launchers, chemical weapons, beheadings, and martyrs giving us a dual lens for viewing the action in this most intriguing play about business intrigue.  

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  

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