Imagine that the fate of the entire free world, or of these United States at the very least, depended upon a single individual … who just happened to be the foulest-mouthed, reddest-necked single mom in all of small-town southern Missouri.

Playwright Jason Wells does just this in his uproarious, outrageous, yet frighteningly plausible political comedy thriller The North Plan, the funniest/ edgiest show in town and a terrific welcome back to Elephant Theatre Company.


The redneck in question is Tanya Shepke (Kerry Carney), dolled up as if for a night at the local country western bar but stuck in the back-room holding cell of the local police station for simply, as she tells it over and over again to uniformed receptionist Shonda (Bernadette Speakes), doing her citizen’s duty and reporting a DUI. That it was she herself who’d committed said crime the previous night by driving under the influence of half-a-dozen Long Island Iced Teas matters little to motor-mouthed Tanya. She will not fucking shut up until fucking justice is fucking done and someone fucking commends for her fucking honesty and lets her fucking out of there. (I’m paraphrasing, but this is pretty much how often the F-word escapes from her pretty-but-potty mouth.)

Before long, a second prisoner is brought into the station and locked into the holding cell opposite Tanya’s, a mild-mannered business-suited bureaucratic sort of milquetoast aptly named Carlton Berg (Chris Game), a nondescript man with a terrifying tale to tell if only he can get Tanya to shut up long enough for either Shonda or Police Chief Swenson (Stan Roth) to listen to him.

Spoiler alert: Skip the next couple paragraphs if you want to be as rip-roaringly surprised as I was by Wells’ fiendishly clever plot.

2013-04-23 09.26.05 It turns out, in playwright Wells’ nightmare scenario, that these United States have been under martial law for the past week or so, a “provisional government” attempting to maintain control while the Marines and the Army face it off on Pennsylvania Avenue. And if that seems worlds removed from Tanya’s small-town Missouri, a pair of Homeland Security agents are right this very minute in the police station’s adjacent main room just itching to practice their “enhanced coercive interrogation techniques” on Carlton, whom they believe to have in his possession the provisional government’s “enemies list,” one whose numbers would make the 200 or so names on Nixon’s infamous “master list” seem but the tiniest drop in a very large bucket.

With so much at stake, Carlton’s one-and-only hope is that, once released, Tanya can find a way to take possession of said list (which he’s managed to keep hidden so far) and gun-run it down to Texas where a friend of Carlton’s will do the rest, and since nothing talks sweeter than a wad of greenbacks, the State Department bureaucrat guarantees Tanya a cool $10,000 to undertake this secret, life-and-death mission.

Yes, indeedy, the fate of the entire free world may actually rest in Tanya’s acrylic-fingernailed hands.

Co-Artistic Directors Fofi and Lindsay Allbaugh could hardly have chosen a better vehicle than The North Plan for Elephant Theatre Company’s return from its 2012 “producing hiatus.” Like Elephant productions before it (Love Sick, 100 Saints You Should Know, The Little Flower Of East Orange, Parasite Drag, Supernova, Block Nine, 7 Redneck Cheerleaders, Tooth And Nail, and Anything, to name only those I’ve reviewed), The North Plan is cutting-edge, edge-of-your-seat edgy, in addition to being a thrilling, laugh-packed roller-coaster ride (that just happens to be a thought-provoker as well).

2013-04-23 10.04.47 Under Fofi’s electric direction, a couldn’t-be-better cast deliver some of the finest, funniest performances in town, beginning with ball-of-fire brilliant Carney as quite possibly the most unlikely freedom fighter ever, and if Carney’s Tanya is about half the age of the role’s originator in its Chicago World Premiere last year, this actually works to make her freedom fighting all the more hilariously improbable, particularly when a double case of mistaken identity is made even more farcical by Carney’s obvious youth.

Game is terrific too as an everyman pursued by gun-toting enemies for whom “due process” has been replaced by “do whatever,” with Roth and Speakes both turning in finely-honed performances as a pair of local law enforcers none too pleased to see our country’s principles given the heave-ho by Homeland Security thugs. (Only Shonda’s I Love Lucy-meets-Laverne And Shirley mugging in an “I have to use the bathroom” sequence seems out of place in an otherwise wisely underplayed performance.)

2013-04-23 10.04.14 Dominic Rains (Dale Pittman) and John Forest* (Bob Lee) combine menace and mirth to terrifying/rib-tickling perfection as a pair of Armani suit-sporting Homeland Security bullies, the former of whom invokes Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in maintaining that “torture isn’t ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ because it isn’t punishment,” the latter of whom keeps wishing his partner in intimidation would stop saying “I” and start saying “we.”

Scenic designer Joel Daavid has created a matching pair of sets (switched during intermission) that look precisely as you’d expect a Missouri police station to look, drab green paint, American and Missouri State flags, wanted posters and all. Matt Richter lights with consummate expertise, his edgy sound design upping the dramatic ante again and again. Costume designer Michael Mullen segues from the sequins-and-glitz of his recent Dreamgirls assignment to give The North Plan’s cast of characters outfits that reveal precisely who they are (Tanya’s country-western gear is one) or deliberately hide their true selves (Dale’s and Bob’s designer suits).  Maya Parish is prop master.

Rebecca Schoenberg is stage manager. The North Plan is produced by Allbaugh. Danielle Ozymandias is assistant producer, and Jake Christian and Kate Huffman are assistants to the director.

Decent, law-abiding, freedom-loving, diversity-celebrating, equality-advocating Americans (whether Red State, Blue State, or Missouri Purple) can only hope that The North Plan’s nightmare scenario never comes to pass. At the same time, there could be far worse fates than having Tanya Shepke leading the resistance, as Wells’ uniquely entertaining The North Plan makes abundantly clear.

Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. Through June 8. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00. Reservations: 855 663-6743  2013-04-23 09.45.32

–Steven Stanley
May 2, 2013
Photos: Joel Daavid

*No announcement was made or posted as to which actors were playing the double-cast roles of Dale and Jim.

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