Directed by Ronan Marra
Produced by The Side Project, Chicago
Thought provoking dark comedy more of a cautionary tale than humorous
Playwright Steve J. Spencer utilizes his sharp, biting, sarcastic, and caustic humor that came off as more cynical than hilarious to weave a cautionary tale (Push Button Murder) about the use of drones both on their victims and their “pilots.” We are at Wright-Paterson Air Force Base in Ohio in an underground bunker with two drone ‘pilots’, Becky (Meredith Rae Lyons) and Roy (Derek Garza), as they kill time waiting for another assignment while perched on their monitors complete with headphones. They debate movie trivia aggressively only to be interrupted with surveillance that can lead to ‘push-button kills’.
These two assertive folks each have different coping mechanism to deal with the tedium and stark reality of their work. Both Airman are, indeed, soldiers in the never-ending war against terrorists and enemies of the USA. Roy is a seemingly happy-go-lucky free spirit while Becky is a pure cynic whose reality is amoral and personally detached. Roy is a lonely, frustrated soul who yearns for a soul-mate while Becky is a tough, negative soul who does her job as a pure seeming sociopath with obvious personal scars from her being a victim of a missile attach in Afghanistan.
From the early scenes, we grow to empathize, even like, these two as the grind out their thankless military assignments. Each have a “gamer mentality” with the knowledge of exactly what their ultimate success means in terms of taking lives. We see how both could easily cross the line if they lose their personal battle to rationalize their effects.
Alternatively, we meet a couple of laid-off teachers, Stacy (Amy Johnson) and her husband Mike (Ben Veatch), in suburban Pennsylvania as Stacy slowly becomes ‘radicalized’ to fight the system who she feels has ruined society. Her radicalization leads her to a former student, Amber (Kasia Januszewski) who is a part of a group bent upon taking violent actions against their list of government and business leaders they perceive as the enemy of freedom and progress. Can you guess where this is going?
Add a mysterious visitor to the bunker, Preston (Andrew Bailes) a suit-and-tie civilian sent by the Air Force to evaluate Roy and Becky on several levels for vague purposes. As Becky and Roy resist Preston’s inquiries with both verbal games and physical restraints, much of the wit, dark humor, and sarcasm of Push Button Murder evolves. This frank exchange is the strongest part of Spencer’s play as we see what motivates and what makes Roy and Becky ‘tick.’ But, the powerful monologue by Becky as she describes her out-of-body experience when she was blown-up in Afghanistan gave us clues as to her mental state now. Roy exhibits sociopath tendencies while Becky leans toward psychopathy as her methodical, emotionless, even enjoyment of her role as a ‘killer’ indicates. Prestion is there to evaluate these two detached ‘gamers.’ He grows to care about them as we do.
While the outcome of this cautionary tale of potential abuse of drones by governments is dramatized, I simply didn’t buy how who much of a threat Stacy, Mike, and Amber are to the social order. Spencer makes a much stronger case for the effects of drones on both their pilots and their targets. This show is a thought provoking work with sharp caustic bites and several well-developed characters. Push Button Murder is tightly directed by Ronan Marra (from Signal Ensemble Theatre) as it blends dark humor with scary scenarios that will leave you debating the merits of drone use. At about 95 minutes, it could use a trim but ultimately, it is a crisp political satire worth seeing.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 10, 2015
For more info checkout the Push Button Murder page at theatreinchicago.com
At the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis, Chicago, IL, call 773-340-0140, www.thesideproject.net, tickets $20, $15 seniors.students, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 95 minutes without intermission, through February 8, 2015