Ken Prestininzi’s “Cookie Play,” now in its world premiere at Trap Door Theatre, is such a repellant and predictable piece of political claptrap that the temptation was not to write about it at all. But because it is so simplistic, warped and offensive — and because it has arrived on stage in the wake of the horrific events that have unfolded in both France and Africa during the past week — it should not go without some comment.
‘COOKIE PLAY’ Not recommended When: Through Feb. 14 Where: Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland Tickets: $20-$25 Info: (773) 384-0494; trapdoortheatre.com Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission
An unholy mashup of America’s post-9/11 response to terrorism, including the use of “enhanced interrogation” and electronic surveillance, the play fails to acknowledge the real threat that now faces the world, and that was the catalyst for such activity.
Equally offensive is that Prestininzi saves much of his most scathing commentary for the ethnic working-class couple from Detroit — Polish/Italian Catholics Harriet Penini (Lyndsay Rose Kane), and her husband, Jim (Chris Popio) — whose son, Tommy (Gage Wallace), might or might not have been engaged in rogue activities of the Edward Snowden variety, or worse.
So what is a mother to do when her son comes under suspicion and is being “handled” by two stereotypically moronic and thuggish Homeland Security agents — Frank 1 (Mile Steele) and Frank 2 (Carl Wisniewski) — who agree to make the Peninis’ home, with its white picket fence and garden, an unconventional black site?
Harriet, a loving mother, compulsively bakes cookies for the agents, and tries desperately to mold her political views to fit their expectations, while Jim is mostly impotent (and perhaps more than a little repelled by his son’s choices). None of this dissuades the agents from engaging in the most extreme torture tactics.
Prestininzi’s refusal to honestly deal with the cause rather than the result of all this chaos is either willful blindness or perverse denial. (Again, recall the most recent barbarism.) And if his goal is to “humanize” the suspect (the play opens when he is a sweet little boy whose mother reads him “The Red Balloon”), he owes it to his audience to at least deal honestly with that larger picture, whatever his opinion of how the major threat now confronting this world might has been confronted.
Injecting glib statements such as “This is America; we don’t have an ideology,” is sophomoric at best. Failing to come clean about whether Tommy is, in fact, a homegrown terrorist is fudging the issue completely.
In true Trap Door fashion, director Kate Hendrickson and her cast dive into the whole morass with total physical conviction. The actors do everything asked of them, and more. But watching the two Franks in their long passages of free-form, lounge-lizard-like dancing turns out to be the show’s only redeeming feature, aside from the design work by Mike Mroch (sets), Richard Norwood (lights), and Danny Rockett (sound).
It is worth remembering that it is only because we are a society that champions “free expression” that a work like “Cookie Play” — as misguided as it might be — can exist on a stage. What its author might want to remember is that he would be among the first to disappear were the terrorists in charge.