The North Plan
By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Think Martin McDonagh without the accents. Think Quentin Tarantino without the cars. Think, in other words, about stupid people with foul mouths, big guns, and big ideas. What you have is Jason Wells’ The North Plan, a very scary and very funny political satire, which just opened at Theatre Exile.
The place is a jail in a tiny town in southern Missouri. In one cage is a self-justifying drunk named Tanya Shepke (Madi Distefano at her Yeehah!, motor-mouthed best). If there’s a lesson to be learned here it’s: Do not mess with Tanya Shepke. In the other cage is Carlton Berg (Dan Hodge) who has been arrested with a list of millions of names of “enemies” of the “provisional government,” a military cabal which has declared martial law in the U.S. and has the Marines and the Army facing off on Pennsylvania Ave.
The sheriff (Mark Cairns) and his office assistant Shonda (Aime Donna Kelly) have to cope with two armed and dangerous morons from the Department of Homeland Security (Robert DaPonte and Carl Granieri). They’re not “Feds” since you need a “Federal” for that.
Under Joe Canuso’s nifty direction, the hilarious pauses and mistaken identities and classic bits all end up in bloody mayhem. He never compromises the dire political warning in favor of getting laughs—although this very skilled cast can mine the material for every paranoid laugh it can yield. The clever set—an office replaces the cages in Act Two-- was designed by Meghan Jones with lots of farcical doors and drawers.
Wells’ point, as the program note explains, is that REX 84, a Reagan-era plan that would suspend the Constitution and instate martial law (the “North” of the title refers to Oliver North), bears a striking resemblance to the current Patriot Act. The play suggests we may all be echoing Shonda’s tremulous line: “Everything’s gonna be all right. Right?”