Among political commentator Walter Lippmann’s best known quotes is the following: “The public must be put in its place…so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.” In other words, if you want democracy to work, you’ve got to control the minds of the masses, something which political consultant Charlie “Bingo” Bingham, the (anti)hero of Cody Henderson’s World Premiere The Bewildered Herd knows only too well. You might even call it Bingo’s mission in life to keep the bewildered herd (i.e.  the people in his life—and you and me) in line.

 Bingo’s wife Annie must be kept in the dark about any hanky-panky her hubby might be up to. His daughter Miranda must kept towing the line at college. His dementia-stricken mother Helen must be kept in ignorant bliss about her husband’s recent death. As for the public at large, well it’s Bingo’s mission to keep them in line as well, or at least keep them supporting the incumbent politician he works for as spin doctor extraordinaire.

Then a rebellious young slacker named Todd enters Bingo’s family circle, and all bets are off.

 It’s Miranda who brings rocker/conspiracy theorist Todd home with her from Berkeley, which she’s just dropped out of after only three months, the better to embark on a career in the culinary arts, that is once she’s learned how to cook. Miranda is clearly taken with the considerably older (i.e. 30ish) Todd, perhaps because the object of her crush is the very antithesis of dear old dad. Todd claims, brags even, that he never votes, and asserts that the Twin Towers could hardly have collapsed merely as a result of being struck by aircraft.

Clearly sparks are bound to fly once Todd and Bingo cross swords.

Stylishly directed by Laurie Woolery, The Bewildered Herd had this reviewer feeling more than a bit bewildered throughout much of its two-plus hour running time as just to what the point of the whole thing was. Fortunately, Woolery’s direction and five sensational performances insured nary a moment of boredom, to the point that I actually found myself wanting to talk back to the characters on more than one occasion. (At one point I scribbled down “Todd is a fucking liar!” as the next best thing to shouting it out loud.)

 John Getz is positively riveting as a man you don’t want to spar with (or be married to or sired by), that is unless you’re able to match him at his own game. Derek Manson (who won a pair of Scenies last year, one for comedy, the other for a musical role) proves himself equally adept at drama here, making Todd a sexy, seductive, and manipulative presence in “enemy territory.” Corryn Cummins manages miraculously to be as convincing as an 18-year-old as she was in her Scenie-winning role as a 32-year-old in last year’s Blackbird, and every bit as mesmerizing. Trace Turville’s multi-colored Annie is another winner, whether lashing back at a controlling spouse or falling under a younger man’s seductive spell. Lisa Richards’ layered work as Helen makes nutty Grandma far more than a cookie-cutter dementia victim.

 The Bewildered Herd benefits from an all-around terrific design team. Scenic designer Susan Gratch has created an expansive rustic home, complete with functioning kitchen, and since there’s a good deal of cooking and eating going on, prop master Abra Brayman deserves her own kudos. Dan Weingarten’s lighting is richly varied (including a particularly nice TV reflection effect). Ann Closs-Farley’s costumes are, as always, perfect choices for each character. Sound designer John Zalewski has come up with another dazzler, even at one point replicating the sounds of Helen’s mind.

Ashley Teague is assistant director, David Salai stage manager, and Raul Staggs casting director.

Though not quite as straightforward in approach as I might have preferred, The Bewildered Herd ends up well worth checking out, if for no other reason than its gifted quintet of actors. As with any challenging piece of theater, you’re guaranteed to be talking about what you saw long after the curtain has fallen on this heady game of psychological revenge.

Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Blvd., West Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
April 19, 2012
Photos: Joel Daavid

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