Phrases like ”the demise of civilization” crop up so often in discussions of reality TV that cynicism about the next Honey Boo Boo or Celebrity Rehab has become almost boring. At first, Rod McLachlan?s new play Good Television, playing at Off Broadway’s Atlantic Stage 2 through June 16, looks like it?s going to be a banal allegory demonstrating the evils of valuing ratings over human lives. But it?s more interesting than that, and like good television, you?re going to want to stick around after the commercial break ? or the intermission.
The cable network that airs an Intervention-like reality series called Rehabilitation has upped its order from 13 episodes to 22 without giving the staff extra time or money to make the additional shows. Connie (Kelly McAndrew), a hotshot producer and trained intervention counselor, sees the shortened production schedule as a recipe for disaster: When a telegenic meth addict named Clemson (Not Fade Away‘s John Magaro) sends in an audition tape, showrunner Bernice (Talia Balsam)?who?s on her way to a more lucrative gig at an entertainment news show on Fox?convinces Connie to take a film crew to South Carolina without properly vetting Clemson or his family beforehand. Connie worries that Clemson is untreatable and an intervention without a happy ending doesn?t make for ”good television.” Tara (Jessica Cummings), a twentysomething upstart, naively believes in giving Clemson free treatment for his own sake, disregarding the demands of the TV narrative. Meanwhile, Ethan (Andrew Stewart-Jones), the incoming showrunner and most venal of the bunch, just wants drama.
The TV interlopers find more drama than they hoped for when they arrive at Clemson?s run-down trailer park. Clemson?s older brother, Mackson (Luke Robertson), who thinks he knows a bit about media because he works a small-time gig at a local TV station, tries to manipulate the situation for financial gain. Clemson?s sister, Brittany (Zoe Perry), cares desperately about treating her brother but is hanging on by a thread.
The play really belongs to Connie and Brittany, both portrayed as more complex than they first appear. Connie is sleekly dressed and educated, and Brittany is prematurely worn down by financial concerns and domestic drudgery, yet they both reveal unexpected motivations, smarts, and fortitude.
McLachlan, in his playwriting debut, doesn?t let any of his characters devolve into archetype, and director Bob Krakower keeps the onstage action compelling — particularly the filming scenes. Good Television deserves to be renewed for another season. A?
(Tickets: atlantictheater.org or 866-811-4111)