Review by Karen Topham, ChicagoOnstage, member American Theatre Critics Association; photo by ITP
During the shutdown necessitated by COVID-19, some theatres are creating new content by streaming Zoom versions of known plays. Though these sometimes work quite well, there is always that bit of reservation knowing that viewers are cutting some slack due to the limitations of the format. How refreshing, then, to watch a brand new play that is specifically written to take advantage of Zoom like Interrobang Theatre Project’s new production of the dark comedy The Spin.
Written and directed by Spenser Davis, The Spin delves into the world of political spin doctors. A top-level group of these media specialists is thrust into emergency mode by the news that one of their clients—a long-term public official who is currently serving as Public Works Director in a major (unnamed) city—has pleaded guilty to charges involving keeping a massive trove of child pornography on his city-owned computer. Though they released him as a client immediately, they still have to deal with the fact that their top client, the mayor’s office (called their “unicorn”) needs to wade through all sorts of fallout, including a last-minute interview of a top aide by an antagonistic news reporter. Called upon to provide assistance with very little notice, the four team members work diligently to help the interview go their client’s way. It’s a fascinating, riveting examination of the behind-the-scenes machinations that make such interviews work as well as the interpersonal relationships in play.
Davis’s well-paced and very realistic script takes place entirely in a Zoom meeting—though the members of the PR team don’t use that word because everyone is sick of Zoom—in which they plan out and execute tactics for getting their client through the chaos. Laura Berner Taylor plays the client, mayoral aide KC Pecarrero, a woman who clearly is a success in politics because she is utterly ruthless while projecting a veneer appropriate to the fact that she is a mother of two young children. Taylor’s on-a-dime switches between those modes make her character come alive; we don’t like her, but we can definitely respect her as she maneuvers her way through the difficult interview with a very biased reporter (Tom Dacey Carr).
The spin team is headed by Deirdre Young (Elana Elyce and Lorne Collier (Matthew Martinez Hannon), a pair of sharp-as-tacks operatives whose knowledge of media and ability to think on their feet (or, anyway, on their computers) makes their team formidable in the world of spin doctoring. They also have two more recent hires on this all-hands-on-deck video conference, Clark Megan (Salar Ardebili) and April Henning (Sarah Gise), the former a fairly inept team member kept on for his family’s connections and the latter a brand-new team member who is a whiz at memes. As the conference leads into the interview itself, all four team members are needed to handle things and each of them, especially Lorne and Dierdre, deal with awkward aspects of their personal lives.
Davis gets splendid performances from all of his actors, and his script allows them each to develop individual aesthetics and depth of character. He also allows them the leeway to play with the individual quirks that each of us has discovered on Zoom conferences. A throwaway bit where Ardebili shows off his expressive eyebrows as Clark watches himself on the monitor or another where he picks up his laptop to go to the bathroom feels completely familiar, as does April’s desperation in setting up for the call in the furnace room of a building she doesn’t even live in because she was nowhere near home when the meeting was called. Real life is always on display in these meetings, and Davis isn’t shy about letting it hang out, nor does he shy away from the logistics of these COVID times. At one point he has Lorne tell Dierdre to calm down and “Door Dash yourself a cupcake.”
All of these are factors in creating the dynamics that make The Spin work so well. In the midst of a frantic and at times terrifying political season, it gives us a chance to see the things we usually aren’t privy to. From its opening (a faux political commercial) to its powerful and unexpected ending, The Spin will hold you in its grip and won’t let you go. It’s not only a brilliant political play; it’s a dark and compelling vision of the time in which we are living.
The Spin is now available for streaming online until Nov 22 from Interrobang Theatre Project. The show runs approximately 60 minutes with no intermission. Find more information about current plays in our front page recs and attheatreinchicago.com.