NEW YORK (AP) — Does a broadcast network's idea of good reality television necessarily mean the programs are good for the participants? Absolutely not, in the cynical world of longtime actor Rod McLachlan's off-Broadway playwriting debut, the suspenseful drama "Good Television."
McLachlan depicts a business where profit-motivated network executives ("the suits") exploit not only addicts going through rehabilitation, but also the network's employees who profile the addicts' journeys. Almost everybody in this play could use an intervention.
Bob Krakower directs the diverting drama, which opened Tuesday night at the Atlantic Theatre. McLachlan's well-written characters include the high-strung, overworked urban production staff of the reality show, led by Talia Balsam, contrasted with the colorful members of a rural South Carolina household desperate to get their young meth addict on the show for the free rehab.
Balsam gives an assured, sardonic portrayal of Bernice, a jaded TV producer so accustomed to piling work onto her understaffed team that she almost seems to enjoy forcing them to adapt. Her senior field producer, Connie (a taut, on-the-edge performance by Kelly McAndrew) is a trained intervention counselor who chooses the participants for the addiction series primarily for their chances at success afterward.
The tension between these two workaholics is lightened by the arrival of Tara (Jessica Cummings) a young, idealistic new employee. Cummings' big brown eyes widen in a comically dismayed expression as Tara begins to realize the show isn't really about helping people.
Bernice gleefully sums it up for her when describing a good candidate as, "a meth addict, up for days, bouncing off the walls, carnage, wreckage, great TV." Andrew Stewart-Jones is deceptively jovial as Ethan, who's thrown into the mix as Connie's new boss and ends up going on the first shoot to help with filming.
Alternating with meetings in the production offices are scenes in the MacAddy family's shabby doublewide trailer. Zoe Perry gives a tightly-wrapped persistency to the character of Brittany, worn-out older sister to Clemmy, the 21-year-old "tweaker" applying to be on the show.
John Magaro brings a twitchy, sly, yet likeable personality to Clemmy, while Luke Robertson wears the air of a small-time, would-be opportunist as Clemmy's usually disinterested older brother, Mackson.
These two worlds collide in a fairly predictable, yet well-staged extended scene when Connie and her team arrive at the MacAddy's to start filming. With tense negotiations breaking down, and just in case the family isn't already stereotypical enough, along comes their long-lost and not-much-missed patriarch to ignite a powder keg of repressed anger.
Ned Van Zandt is stiffly repentant as the siblings' formerly violent, alcoholic father, whose return sets off an explosion of accusations that make for a very exciting second act. With everyone shouting at once, ugly family secrets are revealed at warp speed while Connie surreptitiously repositions Ethan and Tara to get it all on film.
Although Mr. MacAddy says angrily, "It won't help children to have our sins broadcast all over the nation like some pornographic freak show," it's no surprise that there's an intense discussion back at the office afterward about what to do with all the great footage of a family tearing itself apart.
While the ending is unlikely, it provides a satisfying and partially hopeful conclusion.