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Awaiting the Crash in 'Death of the Liberal Class'

Doomsday lurks on a Canadian farm in Robert Lyons’ new play.

Photo by Steven Schreiber

What would you do if you were convinced that the world is on the brink of total economic collapse, spurred by the dominance of "robot" corporations that operate against the interests of mankind for their own survival? If your answer is write a book about it then move to a farm in Canada, you will find a kindred spirit in Robert Lyons' Death of the Liberal Class, directed by Jerry Heymann.

Having accomplished everything he has ever dreamed of by publishing his book, Nick has given up on the world, retiring from academia and for the first time finding peace on a farm owned by his wife's family. Months later, he and his greatest acolyte, his 17-year-old computer whiz daughter Andrea, are about to have their worlds profoundly shaken up.

Andrea's mother Daphne is visiting from New York, determined to bring her daughter back to Manhattan with her to apply for college, which Andrea is convinced is simply another manifestation of the corporate robots about to destroy the entire economic system. Meanwhile, Andrea catches Nick having an affair with neighbor Maggie and is itching for revenge, while a friend from the internet with a mysterious past shows up on their doorstep, as charming as he is dangerous. So what exactly will bring on the death of the liberal class?

And how do you theatricalize hacking? This play does a decent job by making the reasons behind it deeply personal, both in Andrea and Even's developing romance and in Andrea's desire to get back at Maggie for her budding affair with Nick. Yet, there is still too much of the young people walking around carrying their laptops than there needs to be, constantly reminding us of the weapons they have at hand.

Without a thorough knowledge of either computer hacking or the content of Nick's book, the audience can often be left feeling out of the loop. As such, it is the personal drama in Death of the Liberal Class that draws viewers in: Nick and Daphne's deteriorating marriage, their desire to protect their daughter Andrea and Andrea's feud with Maggie. Ultimately, this play succeeds at getting you to care about the characters and their domestic issues, but not necessarily about the financial apocalypse that may or may not be rapidly approaching.

The actors have great chemistry onstage, especially Steven Rattazzi, who shines as complex but ultimately unsympathetic prophet Nick, unable to commit to actually doing anything about the economic disaster he has predicted, and Jeanette Diloné as 17-year-old Andrea who is in some ways wise beyond her years and in others extremely naive. Maggie's (Olivia Horton) story of spousal abuse and identity theft is an effective parallel for the larger narrative of the play, as Nick enjoys the romantic idea of saving her but is powerless to effect any real change. And in his two brief moments onstage as a scornful TV interviewer and a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Arthur Aulisi embodies the absurdism threaded through the performance that gives it its best instances of humor.

Bouncing between such elements of absurdity, pop culture references and deeper thematic implications, Death of the Liberal Class suffers from an inconsistent tone and a few metaphors, like the opening axe mock-execution scene, that are never fully developed. Moving between the rustic and the futuristic, as represented by the mechanical sliding backdrops of forest that form the set, Lyons' play presents the impending financial crash as something both immediate and strangely distant. What would currency losing value mean to the modest Canadian farmer anyway?

Death of the Liberal Class tries to do many different things in just 80 minutes of theater, and what it does manage to accomplish is impressive. A story of global proportions that nonetheless feels small and intimate, the play reflects upon what you do after publishing your masterpiece, and whether a writer is responsible for the actions of their acolytes. And is the idealistic young hacker a hero or a villain?

Death of the Liberal Class plays at the New Ohio Theatre through February 13.

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