Anderson, Indiana

Satire abundant in AU production of "Red Herring"

Thu, 2012-11-08 11:36 -- univcomm
November 8, 2012

There’s been enough time and distance now to poke fun at Cold War fears.

But it’s best if those jabs are fresh and relevant for younger audiences.

Red Herring, the current theater production at Anderson University, fits some of those demands as a farcical take on Communist spies, the Eisenhower era and, in particular, the impact of 1950s’ paranoia on the relationships of three couples.

The play, often witty and smart, however, also offers relevance for today amid the 2012 elections, the holding of terrorist spies at Guantanamo Bay and the fine line couples continue to walk in establishing romance.

But the convoluted script by Michael Hollinger may have audiences seeking a road map to keep track of character aliases and plot complications.

The production runs at 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday and Nov. 15-17 at Byrum Hall.

[Photo: Sarah Whitlock as a clerk in a license bureau calls off names of those waiting in line in the Anderson University production of Red Herring.]

Hollinger’s Red Herring was first performed in Philadelphia in 2000. Intended for small venues, the production has sparse settings that move quickly between apartments, a spy hangout, the home of Communist-battling Sen. Joe McCarthy and the atomic bomb testing in the Bikini Atoll — all taking place in the week leading to the 1952 presidential election.

Sharply, AU director Ronn Johnstone treats the story as comic noir, a light-hearted approach where audiences shouldn’t take the plot too seriously. The focus is instead of the cold wars between mistrusting lovers.

Without getting too deep into the plot, female cop Maggie Pelletier (played smartly with believable conviction by Rachael Fleenor) becomes engaged to a G-man Frank Keller (Colin McCord in a delicate balancing act of dedication slipping into outrage). Surrounding them are tricky subplots, most notably where McCarthy’s daughter delivers microfilm to a spy who has to fake a death.

It gets a little-too-neatly wrapped up as six characters find romance but that should be OK with audiences after more than 2 hours and 15 minutes of a production with generally crisp acting (based on Monday’s rehearsal).

All performers, however, could speak clearly and a little louder — there’s a lot of motion and turned backs here — so audiences can follow quick plot shifts.

Supporting characters assist with comedic break-outs. Admirably, they include Aaron Jones whose hand gestures take on a life of their own as he comically fakes being a mute.

Mallory Miller is hilarious while mixing cake batter as McCarthy’s wife. Sarah Whitlock takes control of her only scene by leaping all over a desk as a clerk in the marriage license bureau. Jordan Moody brings some nice camp to his role as the Eisenhower-loving coroner.

The production raises questions and has fun with 1950s politics and attitudes. It intentionally tries to mislead, as a good red herring mystery would. Even though a romance can be distracted by falsehoods, Red Herring shows a good romance will, if nothing else, end in a marriage proposal.

— Scott L. Miley is features editor for The Herald Bulletin. Story reposted with permission. Photo credit: Scott L. Miley.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.