Hollywood Fringe 2018
Fictionalized re-imagining of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.
Last year at Hollywood Fringe, director Matt Ritchey helmed the charming light-hearted comedy “Martha Washington Killed a Redcoat,” bringing to life a fictional reimagining of the Boston Tea Party starring our American foremothers. This time, Ritchey shifts gears for a retelling of the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt by John Hinckley, in the engaging “American Conspiracy”, written by Benjamin Schwartz.
In 1981, we meet oil man Alan (Spencer Cantrell) who’s found himself in debt to the Department of Energy. Looking for help, Alan turns to his friend Trent (David Garver), a drug-sniffin’, wild-talkin’ son-of-a-gun who, rather than bail out his friend financially, offers a more sinister solution to his problem: have President Reagan killed, let the vice-president George H.W. Bush ascend to power, and let him change the rules at the Department of Energy that put Alan in debt in the first place. Trent also suggests Alan’s mentally-unstable brother, John Hinckley, to be the one to carry out the killing.
On the other side of town is a mother and daughter in the local diner business. Jane (Katelyn Schiller) struggles to convince her mother Fran (Amy Smallman-Winston) to take measures to ramp up business. Business is slow, but they manage to get one weary customer, John Hinckley (Hank Doughan), stopping by for breakfast on his way to infamy.
Schwartz’s script has potential and I hope that this fringe outing is a step on its journey rather than the final destination. Perhaps time constraints (the play runs at a brisk 75 mins) account for some omissions; I would have liked to see a scene between the brothers. Also missing perhaps intentionally, is any mention of Hinckley’s notorious obsession with actress Jodie Foster.
And yet, American Conspiracy still holds our attention thanks to Ritchey’s strong direction, some good humor, and some fine performances, namely Hank Doughan as Hinckley in the calm before the storm. Never have I seen anyone order from a menu in such an unsettling way. Also, high marks to Katelyn Schiller as the down-to-Earth Jane, the only practical character in the show, pursuing the American dream the old-fashioned way.
There’s some nice imagery too: the struggling mid-century style family-owned diner, a CIA agent snorting coke off of an American flag…What’s more American than that? ZACHARY BERNSTEIN