With the United States presidential election just three months away, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for The Production Company to present the Los Angeles premiere of Jamie Pachino’s political satire The Return To Morality, imaginatively directed by Mark L. Taylor and terrifically performed by Alias’s Kevin Weisman and five of L.A.’s finest supporting players.

 Weisman stars as university professor (and lifelong liberal) Arthur Kellogg, whose book The Return To Morality media mogul Armando Le Becque is gung-ho to publish. The novel does, after all, have everything in it to make it a major best seller: Men. Women. Slavery. Environmental Rape. Jews. Gays. Communism. Nuclear Holocaust. “It’s controversial,” raves Le Becque “It’s dirty. It’s mean.”

There’s only one problem with that analysis. Kellogg’s Return To Morality is also supposed to be funny, dry, and sarcastic.; in other words, a satire, though its author’s intentions have apparently whooshed over Le Becque’s head.

And then the publisher gets an idea. Arthur should simply take him up on his offer, grab his fifteen minutes of fame, and then tell America the truth!

Faced with a choice between a major book deal and maybe getting published by the University of Toronto, Arthur does what any red-blooded, card-carrying liberal would do. He makes a deal with the devil, trusting that the American public will be smarter than Le Becque and figure out from the get-go that’s he’s just kidding.

 Unfortunately, when a book is published as nonfiction, folks tend to take it as the truth, and before Arthur knows it, he’s become a national hero to the very people he most despises, and so completely caught up in his “fifteen minutes” that try as he might, this is one rollercoaster ride he can’t seem to get off.

Weisman’s five seasons opposite Jennifer Garner on TV’s Alias makes his casting as Arthur a particular coup for The Production Company, but as his starring roles in La Mirada Theatre’s Lost In Yonkers and Dinner With Friends have made abundantly clear, the UCLA grad is as dynamic and charismatic on stage as he is on the small screen, qualities which make him an ideal choice to bring playwright Pachino’s surprised and dismayed Conservative Hero to amusingly conflicted life.

 The lovely Catherine O’Connor does terrific work as Arthur’s English wife Jo, whose initial expressions of trust and belief that her husband will “always do the right thing” prove no match for the forces who align themselves with America’s new spokesperson for the Republican Right.

A quartet of some of L.A.’s most versatile acting chameleons bring The Return To Morality’s dozen and a half supporting and cameo roles to vivid life.

Jim Hanna is simply dazzling as “Won’t Take No For An Answer” Le Becque, as well as a hilariously over-the-top, sound effects button-pushing shock jock talk radio host named Jimmy Jay and blackmailing Republican bigwig Carlson, standing in for the Devil himself in Pachino’s Faustian tale.

The always splendid Jennifer Lynn Davis’s multiple roles include Arthur’s hot-to-trot department chair Diane, real-life 60 Minutes icon Lesley Stahl, and a nurse who’s none too happy to take Arthur’s understandably high blood pressure.

A pair of The ProdCo newcomers do standout work as well. Star-in-the-making Christy Keller brings girl-next-door appeal to Arthur’s personal assistant Lily, makeup artist Lily, and most significantly, the bestselling author’s most alluringly seductive fan Beverly. New York-to-Los Angeles transplant Ace Gibson aces the plum assignment of late night talk show host Ike Lazarus (David Letterman crossed with Arsenio Hall), along with a rather threatening policeman and assorted cameos.

 With its 2012-specific references to Facebook, Twitter, and a “Return To Morality app,” Pachino’s updated 1999 satire is, if anything, even more relevant in the Tea Party Now than it was in the Clinton late ‘90s. On a slightly less positive note, the decision to eliminate Carson and his policeman crony from a pivotal scene makes it a bit unclear whether a particularly significant political speech is scripted or ad-libbed. Also, a somewhat confusing final scene could stand some clarifying in legal terms. (Could one of the characters still be accused of a crime should another character’s plan be agreed to?) Otherwise, Pachino’s script is even finer and dandier now than it was pre-George W. Bush.

August Viverito’s ingenious set design insures lickety-split scene changes, its centerpiece a marvel of a desk that gets transformed into everything from a restaurant table-for-two to a hospital bed to a presidential convention speaker’s rostrum to (most impressively) a rustic fireplace so log-burningly real-looking, it inspires a round of audience applause.

Lindsay Jones’s effects-laden sound design and mood-establishing original music are both winners as is Jeremy Pivnick’s imaginative, resourceful lighting design. Dimitri Kakaris’s costumes are all terrifically character-appropriate choices.

The Return To Morality is produced by T L Kolman and Viverito and assistant directed by Jennifer Sorenson. Penny Peyser is associate producer, Johnny Patrick Yoder lead electrician, and John Couch production stage manager.

Following The Beauty Queen Of Leenane, Working, and Very Still And Hard To See, The Return To Morality makes it four 2012 hits in a row for The Production Company (and we’re barely into August). Audiences in search of cutting edge entertainment with a political slant could do no better than to check out The ProdCo’s latest.

The Production Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Avenue, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
August 3, 201

Comments are closed.