Review “Campaigns Inc” (Timeline Theatre): The Origins of ‘Fake News’

Thursday, August 11, 2022 Permalink 0

Timeline Theatre presents the World Premiere of CAMPAIGNS, INC. 

Freedom of speech has long been a right cherished by Americans. For the last several years, this tenet has been scrutinized. Does this ‘freedom of speech’ extend to lies being told, tweeted and even broadcasted? Does it cover spreading false information about a global health crisis or election results? The era of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, that started as a gnawing headache in 2016, exploded into a chronic migraine circa January 2017. Even though this phenomena seems rooted in one man’s delusions, the onset of spin-doctoring for power isn’t a recent invention.     

Playwright Will Allan explores the origins of gaslight campaigning in his new play. Allan tells the true story of political operatives, Leone Baxter (played by plucky Tyler Meredith) and Clem Whittaker (played by the smooth-talking Yuriy Sardarov). They introduce dirty shenanigans that drive the results of the 1934 election for the California governor. Their target is well-known author Upton Sinclair, the democratic candidate. Although the story is interesting, the execution has some issues. 

Upon arrival, black and white footage (projection designer Anthony Churchill) establishes the 1930s vibe. It showcases clips of Shirley Temple, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and other dust bowl era events. The oversized screen with projections is used throughout the show. Although its presence adds clever depth like the beginning and end credits, the actual structure adds to incessant scenery shifting. 

Director Nick Bowling stages blackouts between scenes to move furniture.The frequency and the duration of these interruptions break the rhythm of the storytelling.  A few audience members clap in the darkness, amplifying the awkward transitions.The blackouts also feel unnecessary. In a pivotal scene, the stage effectively features four locations, simultaneously. Even with limited furnishings, there is no confusion to the separation of places. If this streamlined scenery was utilized throughout the show with limited blackouts, the production would be tighter and smoother. 

Despite the fact that Jacqueline Grandt and David Parkes do a great job of playing multiple roles, some of these parts and scenes add a layer of confusion instead of context. The audience is left head scratching over incidents like Charlie Chaplin’s conversation with studio folks or the significance of doughnuts being served at the Roosevelts. Allan’s main characters are the main story. Meredith and Sardarov are joined by Terry Hamilton (Merriam) and Mark Ulrich (Hatfield) for multiple spirited debates. Hamilton is the perfect blowhard with Ulrich his smarmy sidekick. In the other camp, a nervous Anish Jethmalani (Sinclair) delivers a passionate address to correct his record. And his best bud, Charlie Chaplin (played by a charismatic Dave Honigman) provides moral support. And nod out to Costume Designer Sally Dolembo for dressing the gentlemen in multiple slick suits.   

The votes are in.. Allan’s story is interesting yet perplexing. To help navigate the CAMPAIGNS, INC. experience, I recommend arriving early and reading the program notes regarding the Sinclair-Merriam election, the timeline and character profiles.             

Running Time: One hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission and a ten minute delayed start 

TimelineTheatre, 615 W. Wellington 

Written by Will Allan

Directed by Nick Bowling

Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7:30pm

Fridays at 8 p.m.

Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Sundays: 2 p.m.

Thru September 18th

For more information or tickets

Photos by Brett Beiner

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