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Issue Date:  March 11, 2005

'McReele' takes on real issues


“McReele” raises lots of questions but answers few. This intriguing new off-Broadway play by Stephen Belber, making its world premiere at the Laura Pels Theatre through May 1, keeps audience members constantly off-balance in their attempts to come to easy solutions on a range of topics including the death penalty, the credibility of political candidates and media ethics.

What is clear in “McReele” is how people use individuals, groups and issues to get what they want. Darius McReele (Anthony Mackie ) is a death row inmate who uses a journalist, Rick Dayne (Michael O’Keeke), to get himself exonerated. The media then uses McReele as a sensational story and he uses them again to become a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, while the Democratic National Committee uses him as its best chance to beat the incumbent Republican. The cloudy part is just how honest all these sides are being with each other, or themselves. And whether they care.

“People see you, they hear you, they understand you the minute you open your mouth. Details are irrelevant,” says Katya (Jodi Long), Dayne’s girlfriend and the host of a local TV talk show on which McReele has just appeared. “And that’s not cynicism, it’s just a beautiful truth. Packaging is 90 percent. Which makes you and me a good match.”

That may be the only truth, or at least the only apparent truth. Katya touches on the murkiness of truthfulness when she challenges Dayne as to why he quit his job to become McReele’s campaign manager. “And that’s enough? That his belief in himself fulfills your desire to believe in something -- regardless of whether you actually agree?

Dayne explains: “Yeah, because it’s a hundred times better than what I’m used to. Look, I’m not an idiot. He’s flawed, but the guy makes people believe again. He spoke to 2,000 women at a mall last week about health care, Katya, and they were crying. About his health care proposal. They were crying. He’s effective. It’s worth the compromise.”

McReele is well aware of the compromises he is making as well, calling himself a “lamb-to-the-slaughter from the get-go”: “It also happens that the DNC has a nice little reverse minstrel show goin’ here. The eloquent black man reciting the party line to a whole new block of voters, but getting all that black vernacular rehearsed out of him. . . . You all want a performer and I was the best seal in the house.” But like Dayne, he is willing to consider compromise: “You offer the black man some power and he’s a fool not to take it. I’m just not sure I wanna be your fool.”

The ultimate compromise, though, may lie in the hands of Dayne when he learns McReele may not really be innocent of the murder of which he’s been exonerated.

All of this works nicely as entertainment because the actors are all turning in peak performances. Mr. Mackie is one sharp dude as Mr. McReele. He smoothly portrays a man who could convince just about anybody of just about anything. I heard people all around me debating his guilt or innocence as they left the theater. McReele would have loved that.

The candidate’s last name sums up why he is so successful. The prefix “Mc,” taken from McDonald’s, is popularly affixed to words to describe something commercial and widely produced. His second syllable, “Reele,” of course, sounds like real -- he’s real, for the masses. Luckily “McReele” isn’t a McPlay. It’s too challenging for the masses. Theatrically, it’s the real thing.

Retta Blaney’s latest book, Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors, features interviews with Kristin Chenoweth, Edward Herrmann, Liam Neeson, Phylicia Rashad, Vanessa Williams and others.

National Catholic Reporter, March 11, 2005

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