Paint by numbers

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  April 1, 2008

No need to make this a period piece: Wellman’s lampoon appeared during the first Bush administration, but it looks quite at home with a skewed image of Bush 2 presiding over the offices of homophobic cracker Senator Bob — at Charlestown Working Theater, a few furnishings strewn atop what look like large red, white, and blue coasters. As the play opens, a delivery person gotten up as if to transport anthrax shows up at the senator’s sanctum with an envelope containing the seven blurred but suggestive photographs of the title. After Senator Bob’s staff has worked itself into an analytical frenzy over them, the redneck pooh-bah himself arrives to weigh in: are the photos of blow jobs or, possibly, the pope? Eventually a televangelist, the Reverend Tom, turns up to ogle and condemn the photos, which, it is opined, constitute either a “smear” or “surveillance.” Dot, the secretary, eventually works it out: they’re art, ripe for the sort of witch hunt that will draw public attention from such political inconveniences as Senator Bob’s likening of Arabs to insects. At this point, the play does not so much end as leak rant — with Senator Bob pointing the finger of faggotry at everyone from Ronald Reagan to George Washington — until it deflates.

Wellman, a two-time Obie winner, has a gift for lunatic wordplay, and there is some here, including some flights of religio-erotic gibberish for Reverend Tom. But the production is more notable for director Darren Evans’s physical fillips and what his actors do with the thin material, their strategizing right-wing flunkies reduced to a twitching fever by the “evidence” they can’t stop examining. Craig Houk, having put ants in his pants and humped a chair leg, becomes goofily glazed-over as Bob Jones alum and legislative assistant Bruce; Jeff Gill brings a lurching, tyrannical vulgarity to Senator Bob; Susannah Melone gives airheadedness an addled dignity as Dot; and Steve Turner mixes amiability with brimstone as Reverend Tom. Best of all is Kelly Rauch as Eileen, the prim Dartmouth grad who writes the senator’s restrictive legislation. So hot, bothered, and perplexed is she by the photographs that her star-spangled blouse threatens to explode into a supernova and her face turns itself into something closer to a pretzel than a countenance.

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