The Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

"Scramble" at the Westport Country Playhouse thru July 26

I can remember when the publication of interesting, and for that matter very uninteresting, pornography was made legal when it was attached to some (usually blase) language implying socially redeeming value. Nowadays the only necessary attachment is a list of things that should quickly be called to your doctor’s attention. But in terms of the first amendment, and the right to free speech in the marketplace, such trivia still becomes important.

Not so with David Wiltse’ new adult play at the Westport Country Playhouse, called "Scramble." "Scramble" purports to be a cynical description of a dysfunctional office, with a staff that’s keeping barely afloat by pretending at productivity and playing at teamwork while secretly wishing to seduce each other. It does not reach the level of interesting and it only lightly approaches the limits of pornography (in a takeoff on whips and domination), and it has, as far as I could tell, no socially redeeming value whatsoever. The writing involved is at scout camp drama level ("Can Sir?" says the surgeon). Although by the end of the production I laughed and admired the actors and director, I resented, not for the first time, the playwright for pretending to write something that would beckon an audience to a theatre. So I’m back to a familiar theme: what’s the purpose of the Westport artistic direction? Where’s it leading? Why would an educated audience be loyal to such drivel?

I could not possibly say to a friend "You’ve got to see this play!" Maybe to a boring enemy. I could describe it with laughter to colleagues, and say "if you want to spend an evening at a play with no effort on your part, except to stay awake, and get a few laughs, go ahead and see "Scramble," caveat emptor!" Is that the level to which the esteemed Westport Playhouse has descended? Lord have mercy.

If against my advice, you do go to this nothing play, you’ll enjoy the energy of the actors, especially Candy Buckley and Tom Beckett and Matthew Rauch, and the weird set (and the good lighting (Ben Stanton) And the direction by Tracy Brigden. Six good actors and a fine technical crew, in search of a purpose. Have a little pity on them as they repeat Mr. Wiltse’own indictment, "What other magazine would hire a writer who can’t write?" It hits home.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports

Tickets and information at www.westportplayhouse.com

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