Directed by Nick Bowling
Produced by TimeLine Theatre Company
Fighting for truth in a diabolical world
Danny Casolaro Died for You is the story of how the playwright’s cousin was found with his wrists slashed in a West Virginia hotel room under suspicious circumstances. Orlando’s story could easily have slid into propaganda or a boring series of interviews with lawyers and bankers, but instead, is the sort of psychological thriller more often seen on film than onstage.
The story twists with every scene and in some ways the details aren’t even the point, but the set-up is that thirteen years after Casolaro’s death in 1991, Congress is re-opening its investigation. They don’t like that Danny’s cousin, psychology professor Thomas Vacarro (Demetrios Troy, in a role Orlando insists does not represent himself) doubted in an official statement that Danny’s death was a suicide. In a series of re-enactments, we learn how Danny (Kyle Hatley) was contacted by Bill Hamilton (Jamie Vann), a program developer who claims the Department of Justice allowed a politically-connected businessman to steal his product. Beset by financial troubles and morally outraged, Danny is eager to expose a huge cover-up and earn a place in journalistic history alongside Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and a similarly high-paying job.
However, the story quickly becomes too big for Danny. No sooner is he investigating someone than he strays across something else that person was involved in, and from there more leads branch out. Soon he is wrapped up in the underground politics of private armies, organized crime, and the notorious Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which laundered money for dictators, terrorists, and drug lords across the world. Though most of the people he interviews are crooks at best, each of them has felt victimized at some point and is eager for a chance to denounce their enemies and exaggerate their importance, while staying off the record. Under increasing financial and emotional strain, and lacking some key evidence, Danny is unable to commit to a single story. Instead, he tries to tie all the criminal activities he has encountered into a single master narrative, veering dangerously close to a conspiracy theory, and making far too many dangerous enemies at once.
Director Nick Bowling has masterfully created a mood of tension that grows stronger throughout the play, even though we know the inevitable conclusion. Scenic designer Collette Pollard’s three-part set, which you have to walk across to reach your seat, is both detailed enough to be realistic and infinitely elastic. The three rooms scattered throughout the stage rapidly shift between representing locations in several peoples’ homes. Costume designer Austin Pettinger created distinct looks for each of the nineteen characters, including wigs and facial hair. Dramaturge Megan Geigner and graphic designer Dina Spoerl have created the most engaging lobby display I’ve seen in a while, where you can learn about the real-life people and events mentioned in the story.
The all-male ensemble (it seems to be an all-male world) evenly carry the show and complement each other. Hatley is personable and idealistic; you can tell Casolaro means it when he says he is fascinated by all his subjects as complex human beings. Troy’s Tom Vaccaro has a slightly crass exterior as a pop psychologist, but his and Hatley’s chemistry provides the few tender moments in the show. Mark Richard plays Michael Riconosciuto, a perpetually agitated and deeply suspicious computer engineer, who is both laughable and tragic. Philip Earl Johnson, Dennis William Grimes, and Jamie Vann split up the remaining sixteen roles, and are so strong in the major ones you have to look closely under the wigs to know there are only six people in the cast. Costumes can distinguish between characters, but it takes a lot of acting skill to make each stand out enough to keep them straight in your mind.
If you are a middle-aged leftist, and most theatre-goers are, this show is not to be missed. Even if you’re not, you’ll probably feel like one by the time you leave. To be sure, this story is from the point of view of Casolaro’s relative, and the author made no attempt to hide that, even though he used a fictional character in his own place. But if you want to see an effective piece of political theatre, this is it.
Date reviewed October 1st, 2014
For more info checkout the Danny Casolaro Died for You page at theatreinchicago.com
At Timeline Theatre, 615 West Wellington Ave, Chicago, IL, call 773-281-8463, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $39-52, Wed & Thurs at 7:30, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with intermission, through December 21, 2014