Complicit plays at the Old Vic until 21 Feb
Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, Ben Kritzer (Richard Dreyfuss), has written something he shouldn't have. As a result, he's up against the Supreme Court Grand Jury, who are demanding he reveals his source. His too-skinny, too-whiney wife, Judy (Elizabeth McGovern), is worried he might go to prison, depriving her and the kids of a husband and father. The lovely David Suchet (Poirot to you and me) plays Ben's tricksy lawyer Roger Gowan; whether he has Ben's interests at heart remains a point of contention throughout the play.
This is a very new, very modern, very American play. You can tell because it opens with recorded news footage from 9/11. Every so often between scenes, a couple of extras come on in boilers suits and torture another extra. Then the "drama" recommences. People talk in a steam of consciousness, or even a stream of self-consciousness, their speech liberally pepper-sprayed with "you knows" and "he said, she saids", and "what the fucks." They say "fuck" a lot in this play. A lot.
And the three actors wader through these "fucks" and "you knows" on a near-empty in-the-round stage for an hour and a half. The politically charged courtroom drama promised by the pre-play blurb takes place in another room; all we see is the awkward other stuff.
Both Dreyfuss and Suchet model the air beautifully with their character's different hand gestures; the former fails to impress, and is still wearing an earpiece according to some reports; the latter, who we'd happily hear read the phone book, does well with the dreadful material.
Interesting flashes of dialogue (about torture: "the enemy know; it's America that doesn't know. America doesn't wanna know"), reminiscences on a collective feeling post-Vietnam versus modern-day selfishness shine briefly though a lot of meaningless, meandering, overcomplicated drivel. Note to Joe the Playwright: drama doesn't come from your audience not knowing what on earth is going on; frustration does.
For all its grand intentions, to raise questions about the nature of liberty, the freedom of the press, the state of American politics, the play just isn't very good. Post-Obama, it even feels dated. It's a hugely wasted opportunity. Everyone we know who's seen it feels the same: disappointment.
Complicit plays at the Old Vic until 21 February. Mon-Sat 19:30 (28 Jan 19:00), mats Wed & Sat 14:30 (not 10, 17 Jan). Ticket prices: £10-£46