Monday, January 28, 2019

"Kleptocracy" at Arena State

"Kleptocracy" tries to do a lot of things in a short period of time. The cast has two women (one a wife and one without a name), and five men, but primarily focuses on Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. There are moments throughout where Putin addresses the audience directly. The playwright Kenneth Lin is known for among other thing his work on "House of Cards". My understanding is that "House of Cards" also utilized the look at the audience trick. There are exceptions, but generally this seems to me a device that is clearer on TV. In a play its often hard to discern what is rhetorical and what the audience should respond to and it leads to uncomfortable moments. Of course a play about the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of both oil and Putin is never really going to be comfortable. 
The play doesn't shy away from the violence, characters often appear extra bloodied in an extended metaphor about the blood on their and other's hands. The cast is white, although Kondaleeza Rice gets a few references as someone who didn't like Putin's power plays. The play covers a fairly long period of time and doesn't do much to explain more than the high points. It's tough to call a play where Vladimir Putin is a main character exaggerated or unrealistic, but there were parts where the dialogue felt to me like it was trying so hard. Characters would say things and respond in ways that didn't track or seemed designed to communicate more with the audience than each other. It's tough to write a play about events that are so recent and involve so many real figures who - likely at this point - have only begun to hint at their levels of complicity. I feel like this play only makes some sense now and will make even less sense in ten years. The cast was good, ultimately this felt to me like the source material aimed high and yet its intent was a little better than its execution. 
However, seeing this play in this time - I saw it on Friday - did seem very apt. And well, if you wanted to watch a guy smirk while sitting on a couch with a (stuffed) tiger, this play does have that.