By Christina Gorman
Directed by Steve Scott
Produced by American Blues Theater
At the Greenhouse Theatre, Chicago
Can personal lies ruin an academic career filled with meticulous scholarship?
Playwright Christiana Gorman based her play, American Myth, on an actual true event that found a history professor caught embellishing his person background to his students and to the press. American Blues Theater has choose not to name the professor nor the college. The American Myth proves that truth can, indeed, be stranger than fiction and equally preposterous!
In American Myth, we meet the charming, charismatic Dr. Douglas Graham (Mick Weber in terrific form), a best-selling author and admired professor and American history scholar. We hear fascinating samples of Graham’s wildly interesting history lectures. Weber is so inspiring and glib that I wanted to sign-up for his American history class!
We see his interview for the lifestyle section of a local newspaper by his former favorite student turned journalist, Peter Finnerty (Jordan Brodess). That interview was quite friendly and it gave the professor a platform to speak about his book, his teaching and his personal life. Finnery never asked Graham about his personal life, the professor volunteered his life story. We also meet Lanie Graham (Cheryl Graef) the loving loyal wife to the beloved history professor.
But when Finnerty’s editor receives an anonymous email challenging Dr. Graham’s personal story: he never was an Eagle Scout, he didn’t serve in Vietnam nor did he get arrested while doing anti-war marches in 1971. Mitch Kopitsky (Steve key), Peter’s editor instructs him to do a thorough fact check just to be sure that all the items in the article are true. Finnerty learned how to research from Graham so his research was quite thorough. He found out that most of the personal claims Graham made were not true despite Graham spouting off on minute details of each personal story.
Peter Finnerty is saddened yet he feels a ethical responsibility to correct the facts from his article but his attempts to interview Dr.Graham are thwarted by Lanie who tries a guilt trip on Peter from past kindness show to him by Graham. Once Peter has established that, in fact, Dr. Graham lied about his personal life, the paper would run another article exposing the famous professor as embellishing about his past. Those revelations take into question what else Graham might have lied about? Is his scholarship filled with untruths? What effect did his lies about serving in Vietnam have on students in his Vietnam War course?
We see that the college is in a tough spot as Dean Henry BeeBee (Terry Hamilton) tries to spin the problem to cover the college from too much embarrassment. I’ll not reveal more so not to spoil the twists that baffle audiences. The burning questions are: why would Graham invent such a colorful past and did he embellish his scholastic work? Peter Finnerty and others, couldn’t find any problems with Graham’s scholarship only his personal background.
This basically true story dramatizes what the line is between personal and professional ethics and should a honored man be destroyed by personal embellishments? Since many of us make up personal myths to give our existence more relevance, shuld the greatness of a person be judge by such foibles? Where is the line between truth and myth?
The answer to why Dr. Graham invented those whoopers is contained in the play ending soliloquy that Graham gives in a speech. pay attention and you’ll understands Graham’s mindset.
Steve Scott’s production is terrifically acted especially by newbie to Chicago Peter Finnerty with a nice turn by Cheryl Graeff and Steve Key. But Mick Weber anchors the play with his contradictory portrayal of the beloved professor. Christina Gorman’s smart writing that displays much historical research with the yeoman work by the entire cast makes this a “must see’ theatrical event. Kudos to American Blues Theatre for a thought-provoking play.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 16, 2014
For more info checkout the American Myth page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln, Chicago, IL, call 773-404-7336, www.americanbluestheater.com, tickets $29 – $39, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3:30 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through April 6, 2014