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"I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan" reopens old wounds
PJ Benjamin and Patricia Richardson in "I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan" at The Beckett Theater. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan
Directed by Charles Abbot
The Beckett Theatre
410 West 42 Street between 9th and 10th avenues
From July 14, 2013
Mon. & Tues. at 7pm, Thurs & Fri. at 8pm, Sat at 2pm & 8pm, Sunday at 3pm
Tickets: $51.25 (212) 239-6200 or www.telecharge.com
Closes Aug. 25, 2013
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 27, 2013
On Aug. 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 air traffic controllers after a two-day strike. No doubt this hurt many people and perhaps ruined the lives of a few. John S. Anastasi’s new play, “I forgive you Ronald Reagan,” focuses on two families and how Reagan’s actions destroyed their lives and their friendship.
“I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan” is set in Riverhead, Long Island, in the home of a former air traffic controller named Ray (PJ Benjamin). The first scene is a flashback to 1981. Director Charles Abbot cleverly integrates real news footage of the time, which reveals Reagan at his unrelenting worst.
The rest of the play is set in 2004. By this time Ray is a broken man, trying to scratch out a living by doing a construction job here and there. He spends hours in his attic lair where he has re-created a control tower from which he guides imaginary planes to safety.
Ray’s wife, Jane (Patricia Richardson), earns most of the money to run the household. His daughter, Tess (Danielle Faitelson). as aspiring actress, has an occasional job, but mostly lives off her parents.
Ray has never forgiven Reagan for what he did over two decades ago. Nor has he forgiven his friend, Buzz (Robert Emmet Lunney), a fellow air traffic controller who crossed the picket line and went back to work. But Ray’s wife does find comfort (if not sexual pleasure) in Buzz’s company. Buzz talks, listens and is not obsessed with fantasies of his former life.
Ray fears he may be losing his wife but is unable to react with anything but recriminations. Then Tess reveals she has fallen in love with Buzz’s son, and it becomes obvious that there is much more at stake than a broken friendship.
“I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan” is well-acted and well-directed. Benjamin is outstanding as the tortured Ray. Faitelson is particularly believable as a twenty-something trying to find herself. Lunney and Richardson provide frustrated voices of reason.
One news clip of New Jersey governor Chris Christie extolling Reagan for his actions is a chilling reminder of the precarious standing of unions today. But for those of us who remember the air traffic controllers’ strike, the play may provide a bit too much background information.
However, a more serious problem with the play is its lack of a subtext. Anastasi seems bend on telling us everything rather than letting his characters reveal themselves in more subtle ways. With everything about these people so clearly laid out, the audience has nothing to discover. At times “I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan” seems more like a documentary or a reality show than a play.
Nevertheless, this play does tackle an era that is often looked at through rose-colored glasses. For many, Ronald Reagan remains a hero. The truth behind that smiling face needs to be told.
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