It's impossible to imagine Interrobang Theatre Project's “The Spin” anywhere else than on the internet. That's because Spenser Davis' savvy satire, commissioned by the company, consists almost entirely of a Zoom meeting, preceded by a filmed ad played for the participants and punctuated by a brief television interview.
Set in an unnamed city in September 2020, the one-act, directed as well as written by Davis, dissects the preoccupations and paranoia of the pandemic age. At its center is an important moral question: How compelling is guilt by association?
If someone you know professionally or personally has committed a crime, are you also culpable, even if you didn't recognize the problem beforehand? Politicians confront accusations of corruption and collusion all the time, and typically scramble to distance themselves from the offending event.
More often than not nowadays, they hire “spin doctors” to reshape the story to suit their needs, using everything from fake news to insults and innuendos. That's the case in “The Spin,” though the specifics emerge slowly, and a twist near the end casts everything in a darker light.
The show opens with a slyly hilarious campaign commercial for new Public Works Director Mike Bridges; we learn it’s being shown at a Zoom meeting when an employee interrupts with a question. A recent hire named Clark Megan (Salar Ardebili), he's taken to task by his superior Lorne Collier (Matthew Martinez Hannon), who has called the meeting to discuss how the agency is going to handle an “all hands” situation.
As it turns out, Bridges lost his job about a week earlier because of a child pornography scandal and is currently under house arrest. He had been a client of the public relations agency Clark and Lorne work for. The firm is co-headed by Deirdre Young (Elana Elyce), who had been Bridges’ friend for sixteen years.
The agency dropped Bridges and has been hired by the Mayor's office to prep a top aide for a crucial television interview, distance City Hall from the scandal (essential since the Mayor and Bridges have known each other since their school days) and direct the public's attention elsewhere.
The fourth member of the team is another newbie, April Henning (Sarah Gise), who is out running an errand. Once she finds a place from which to log in — a storage room in an apartment building — only a few minutes remain before the arrival of mayoral aide KC Pecarrero (Laura Berner Taylor). She's an old hand at spin and, with only five minutes remaining before the television interview, Deidre decides to prompt her using an earpiece.
The action unfolds in real time, and the highlight is the lightning-paced interview between KC and smug television journalist Paul McGuire (Tom Dacey Carr) who, we're told, hates the Mayor. Once she gets going, McGuire can't begin to keep pace with KC, and Taylor is brilliant as the brittle aide whose sunny smile and rosy cheeks belie her sharp tongue and bad-ass style.
Besides crafting an of-the-moment plot, Davis creates distinctive characters whose quirks and relationships are highly entertaining, and all the actors are terrific. He also adds details that throw us off guard. For example, at one point KC is letting fly a string of expletives when she stops for a moment to respond sweetly to her young child in another room, reminding us of the risks of at-home virtual meetings. Given her acerbic manner, we can understand why Lorne calls her a “witch” and is convinced she hates him, but then again, they apparently had a fling that didn't end well.
In Hannon's hands, Lorne — with his enigmatic smile — is comparatively calm, collected and willing to bend the truth for expediency — a steady foil to Elyce's dogged Deirdre, an assertive, no-nonsense woman with straightforward determination and organizational skills. The private chat messages between them during the proceedings provide an amusing counterpoint to the main conversations.
Lorne's nagging source of irritation is Clark, who's smart, disorganized and utterly clueless about how to relate to other people. He seems completely out of place in a business setting. Ardebili makes him an endearing teddy bear — with great eyebrows — who could nonetheless annoy anyone with his obtuseness.
Gise's April is his antithesis: attractive, ultra-competent, and on top of things, despite a penchant to apologize. When she and Clark spar, she puts him in his place with a quip about his first name being a last name, and his last name being a girl's name. On the other hand, Deirdre urges Lorne to be nice to Clark, pointing out that he's rich and well-connected, or at least his father is. Indeed, Clark tweets to Sharon Stone about KC's tv coup — and if that isn't well-connected, what is?
Last week, I praised Invictus for its use of the virtual medium, but “The Spin” is even better. The Zoom meeting — with all the anomalies and things that can go wrong — is so real, it's almost scary. Videographer Matthew Freer pulls it off flawlessly with the help of production manager Richie Vavrina, stage manager Shawn Galligan and costume designer LaVisa Angela Williams.
“The Spin” holds up a mirror — well, a camera — to our inadequacies, and it's not a pretty picture. But it is illuminating and could be instructive.