Published: Saturday, January 14, 2012, 4:10 PM
By Marty Hughley, The Oregonian
The revolution will not be televised. But it will have a soundtrack: Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Then again, maybe it’s less a revolution than a resistance, a desperate attempt to preserve liberty, a people’s pushback against secretive, conspiratorial forces bent on oppression.
So just as well for this humble movement to begin in humble surroundings -- such as a police station in the tiny (and fictional) Southern Missouri town of Lodus. That’s where we meet Tanya Shepke, the most -- let’s try to be polite here -- colorful character in the Jason Wells play “The North Plan,” and the most unlikely political-thriller heroine you’ve ever encountered.
The country is in turmoil, a provisional government has taken power, checkpoints have been set up on the highways and curfews have been imposed in the cities. But Tanya’s concern is a DUI she feels she doesn’t deserve. (Sure she was blasted on Long Island iced teas, but shouldn’t she get credit, she argues, for turning herself in?)
Anyway, as long as things are changing, she figures, who better to be pictured on the new money than Skynyrd.
Tanya’s a little crazy, a lot crass, and constitutionally unable to shut up for more than a few seconds. Which makes her the perfect comedic centerpiece for the world-premiere production that opened on Friday at Portland Center Stage. Because despite such serious thematic concerns as the legitimacy of political authority, the importance of dissent and the uses of torture, “The North Plan” is a threat to public order because it’s a laugh riot.
Directed by Rose Riordan with a fine sense of timing and tension, it overcomes its rather static setting (a pair of jailhouse rooms, rendered with apt institutional efficiency by scenic designer Tony Cisek), building a headlong momentum until its sudden conclusion -- which on opening night brought the crowd to a hooting, hollering standing ovation.
Considering that nothing less than the fate of the nation is at stake, you might expect the story’s protagonist to be renegade State Dept. staffer Carlton Berg (an amusingly undone Brian Patrick Monahan), who has stolen a database that might provide liberty’s last hope. But Tanya might be a more authentic representative of the people, and in any case Kate Eastwood Norris (pretty much unrecognizable from the prim professional woman she played here in 2009’s terrific “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found”) portrays her in such brilliant redneck hues that she’s the clear people’s choice.
Tanya’s profanity flows like a mountain spring, so quoting her here is pretty much impossible. But Norris gives her enough dimensions that, however outrageous, she no mere cartoon.
Tanya Shepke (Kate Eastwood Norris) transforms from party girl to freedom fighter in "The North Plan," a comedy/thriller getting its world
While Tanya goes about her idiosyncratic way, the other characters have more rational calculations to make. Carlton expects to be shipped to some secret prison, but hopes his database can help save “the blood of millions.” The police chief (Portland veteran Tim True, disappearing into a subtle, fully realized character role) and a lowly administrative officer (the endearing Ashley Everage) have to decide whether to stick their necks out for motormouth prisoners or just pray the new government won’t be so bad.
Then come the bad guys from Homeland Security (Fredric Lehne and Blake DeLong), invoking conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as they justify their ruthless, bloodthirsty means.
Wells, who developed the script in part at Center Stage’s JAW festival in 2010, cranks up coincidences of timing and mistaken identities, almost the point of farce. And if you might be reminded at times of a sit-com slickness, that could also be interpreted as an admirable narrative efficiency.
And if the revolution ever comes, we should all hope it offers us so much opportunity to laugh.
-- Marty Hughley