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“The Big Broadcast on East 53rd”
A Comedy about Fake News and Alternate Facts

Feb 3 – Feb 25, 2017
Playlinda Productions at
The TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 3rd fl., NYC
Thurs.-Sat. @ 8 PM; Sat. mat. 3 PM (Feb 4 & 25 only); Sun. @ 3 PM
Tickets $ 18, students and seniors $15 smarttix.com or (212) 868-4444
For more information www.thebigbroadcasttheplay.com
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett Feb. 5, 2017


Kate Loprest & John Patrick Hayden. Photo by Carol Rosegg

In response to a journalist concerned about rumors of being on his deathbed, Mark Twain responded on May 31, 1897: “The news of my death is an exaggeration.” As we are presently inundated by “fake news” and “alternate facts,” Dick Brukenfeld’s wild romp into relationships, marital and otherwise, set in early 1980s New York somewhere on East 53rd Street strikes a very timely note. The two central characters are a husband and wife, both dissatisfied with each other, with their station in life, and wildly incompatible in their ambitions and tastes.


Bill Tatum. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The play begins with Penny Talley, played by Kate Loprest with a zany mix of discombobulated elegance, reading and commenting on the obituaries in the New York Times and “discovering”, lo and behold, an obit that places her husband among the dead. Just at that moment, the door opens and with a great bunny hop across the threshold her husband, Ray Talley enters into their living room, pulls out a tape measure, tallies the length of his two-footed leap, holds the tape like a microphone and announces like a sportscaster that he passed the 8 foot mark. The play escalates from there into an absurd, funny, fast paced farce around the central conceit: What to do about the NYT obituary of a very alive man? Ray is played by John Patrick Hayden with tremendous charm and boundless energy. His wife is rather inclined to accept this “alternate fact” because she does not want to follow him to Florida where he hopes to fulfill his dream of becoming a sports newscaster rather than remaining in New York as a failing securities salesman who has to fake success and produces attention with his bizarre behavior, hopping over obstacles and becoming a nuisance. She feels she belongs to New York, basta!

Other characters enter this boogie-woogie and as the dialogue shifts from one non-sequitur to the next, they become entangled with each other over how to deal with Ray as a live or a dead person. Headache suffering Penny [Penelope?] is visited by her equally suffering and equally repressed friend Ruth Weebenson, played by lovely Alexis Bronkovic. Ruth is a teacher, who has written a paper by which she wants to persuade people of the benefit of communal living. Ruth and Ray get promptly literally entangled on the couch while Penny ran off to fetch Mungo Talley, Ray’s younger brother and a rising judge, as is emphasized by his entry in a judge’s robe. Like Penny, he too would not mind to consign his brother to the company of the dead and proceeds to arrange for a fantastic funeral, bagpipes and all. Chris Thorn, physically bigger than Hayden, plays the brother with a slightly threatening playfulness. Into this mix enters Ray’s boss, Fred Packard, played by Bill Tatum who goes along with the other funeral schemers even though he would offer Ray new opportunities in his company. While this character seems a bit like a fifth wheel, Mr. Tatum gives him a distinct personality that adds another tone to the ensemble and completes the mix and match of characters by the end of the second act. The second act takes place in the New York Times office where the obituary editor Khaki Owen resides together with her fishbowl and plants to whom she talks. Joanna Rhinehart as Khaki Owens proves with assertive charm from the outset that she is anything but moribund or morbid despite her position in the obit department; in fact, to everyone’s amazement she breaks into a country-Western song, her favorite music, with all the requisite authenticity, unexpected from an urbane black New York woman.

I will not divulge more about the twists and turns in the relationships and the individual quirks that drive these relationships but encourage you to go and see this farce about a very contemporary serious problem—the manipulation of facts in a chaotic media environment. Charles Maryan directed or rather choreographed a marvelous cast in a small space with an interesting attractive set by Atkin Pace and excellent lighting by Jamie Roderick. Maria Ozmen’s costumes caught the essence of each character. The jazzy score selected by Charles Gross set the right mood at the beginning of each act. In an interview with Ryan Leeds for the Manhattan Digest (January 31, 2017) the author Dick Brukenfeld, himself a former print journalist, had this to say about the subject of his comedy: “The whole concept of fake news is like the plague of our time and this play deals with that phenomenon…What you see in this play is the “why” of why people buy into it…We all bring our own lens to whatever we see. Print and television news have become much less objective than they used to be.” And therein lies the problem: the confusion between opinion and fact, the gap between interpretation and tangible evidence. Is Schrödinger’s cat alive or dead or both? In the theater, it’s the stuff of comedy. In our political climate….well!

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