by Beki Pineda
THE WHISTLEBLOWER – Written by Itamar Moses; Directed by Oliver Butler. Produced by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company (14th and Curtis, Denver) through March 10. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
The title and accompanying thumbnail description used in the publicity for this new play at the Denver Center gave the impression that this was going to be a piece about a man who worked at or infiltrated an organization that was behaving in some way illegal or unethical and exposed them. In fact, the Wikipedia definition of whistleblower is “a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public,” It also notes that “whistleblowers take the risk of facing stiff reprisal and retaliation from those who are accused or alleged of wrongdoing.”
Eli, our titular hero in this episode, does not, however, engage in the traditional whistleblowing. Instead he has an epiphany when he is describing his newest idea for a TV program to a producer that involves a “real” whistleblower. The moment is subtle and, for awhile, you in the audience are like the other characters in the play in wondering what the heck is going on with this guy. He leaves the pitch session even though he has the green light; dismisses his agent; offers some kind advice to the agent’s overworked assistant and leaves. He proceeds to embark on a sort of personal five step program to clear himself of past mistakes made, conversations avoided, situations overlooked or patronized too long. Starting with his girlfriend and parents, he unfilters his dialogue and takes it upon himself to “correct” the patterns of behavior they have long ago accepted. So technically, he’s blowing the whistle on the life he has built up. Successful by most terms but now unsatisfactory to him as he perceives it built on falsehoods and “settling.” Not illegal or unethical, just not correct.
His odyssey takes him to the homes of friends and a past girlfriend, even onto the boat of a stoner friend. As he empties himself of the guilt he didn’t know he was carrying, his 24 hour journey slowly begins to run out of steam. We know Eli will find the way because he still has the soul to appreciate a beautiful sunset, the lure of birdsong, and recognize a truth when he hears it. A random act of kindness from a unexpected source brings him back to the possibility of a different, more authentic way of living.
The cast features long time alumni of the early Denver Center days, Bill Christ, in the duel roles of the producer and Eli’s father. Local favorite Leslie O’Carroll brings her own special down-to-earth realism to Hannah, Eli’s mother. The remaining five are talented theatre gypsies from all over the country led by Karl Miller as the troubled but determined Eli. His confusion is genuine and his determination to be true to his new perception is authentic. His friends and family – while they may not approve of his methods – approve of him and this knowledge of their love helps him move forward. Meredith Forlenza plays his faithless out-for-herself girlfriend and Lisa, the pregnant wife of his best friend, with cunning and selfishness as Allison and the protection of a Mama Bear toward her friend as Lisa. Landon Woodson is especially shallow and cut-throat as Dan, Eli’s agent and especially caring yet callow as the henpecked Jed, a best friend. Allison Jean White pulls triple duty as Sophie, the soft spoken assistant to his agent; Rebecca, his drug dealing, in-denial sister; and Eleanor, the ex who was hurt the most by his selfish actions. Ben Beckley as Max, the stoner painter, has a smaller part but he gets to drive the motorboat! Yes, a full sized motorboat is featured in this production. That is going to make it seriously difficult for smaller theatres without the Denver Center’s resources or technical expertise to do this show.
A thoughtful evening that will linger in your mind.
A WOW factor of 8!!