How a man handsome and talented enough to play Superman for four years manages to channel former FBI agent Peter Strzok in all his wiggly-shouldered, smirking glory is just one of the enjoyable things about the new effort from filmmakers Phelim McAleer and his wife Ann McElhinney (lately of the controversial film Gosnell) titled, “FBI Lovebirds: Undercovers”.
The play, filmed Thursday in front of a live audience at the Reagan Building’s amphitheater in downtown Washington, DC — and soon to be available on YouTube — tells the story of Strok and his lover, former FBI attorney Lisa Page, through their own words via text exchanges and hearing testimony.
Playing the leads are Dean Cain and former vampire slayer Kristy Swanson, neither of whom had ever done live theater before this production and who were both great fun to watch. And while the action such as it is (the characters never really interact with each other) takes place within the context of the Russia collusion probe and its aftermath, at its heart the play is the story of an affair.
And, with apologies to Lisa Page, who is portrayed by Swanson as a star-crossed, bored and snarky, possibly brilliant federal attorney with the emotional IQ of a teenager, it’s hilarious despite her heartbreak.
McAleer chose text exchanges that effectively fleshed out the personalities of the mercurial Page and Strzok, who apparently hated and pitied everyone. For example, when Page is moved onto the Mueller team, she laments the location of her new office because it will provide everyone with proof of how late she gets to work. Strzok on the other hand, offers his paramour a greasy apology later in the production for presenting an idea she came up with to a boss but, sadly, without being able to give her credit.
Cain approaches Strzok — who comes across as the less talented of the two lovers, but who knows a meal ticket when he sees one — in a way similar to that of his co-star Swanson. His Strzok is a narcissistic teenage boy who uses way too many exclamation points and emojis and is prone to dropping and doing pushups in between making fun of Trump supporters at Wal-Mart.
DC residents will recognize these two malcontents as every other person they meet. Non-DC residents will get a rare glimpse of the inner brain workings of the entitled bureaucrats who help run the country.
But arguably the most enjoyable realization was that former South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy’s questioning as the Oversight Committee Chair (McAleer splices together Congressional testimony but Gowdy’s lines are immediately recognizable) are perfect as dialogue in a comedic stage play. And the line of questioning about how Trump supporters SMELL delivered by actor Bruce Nozick, who was brilliant, was laugh-out-loud funny.
There was some controversy surrounding the production as DC’s Mead Theater, part of the Studio Theater Group, backed out of hosting it at the last minute citing death threats. But McAleer, no stranger to controversy, had choice words for the venue.
In an email to the producers, a Studio representative wrote: "We have an institutional responsibility to protect the safety of our staff, patrons, rental guests, and community. In the best interests of all involved, we must ask that you find another venue for your event."
McAleer says he’ll be doing just that.
“The people who run the Studio-Mead Theatre are hypocrites and they are cowards, scared of a play that tells the truth and might challenge their cozy bubble,” he said. “We will get a venue. The staged reading will go ahead. It will be filmed and released online and everyone will get to see the truth about how the upper echelons of the FBI tried to subvert democracy.”
In short, despite the controversy, the still-needed funding to pay for the last-minute venue change, and the leads’ inexperience in front of a live audience, the play deservedly received many heartfelt laughs and a standing ovation from a cynical DC crowd. Those not in attendance would do well to watch the YouTube video as soon as its available.
Sarah Lee is a freelance writer and policy wonk living and working in Washington, DC.