Men of Tortuga

By staff November 20, 2006

An Asolo world premiere is a bitingly funny—and too believable—portrayal of power gone mad..


By Kay Kipling


Even before the action begins in the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s world premiere of Men of Tortuga, there’s something to look at: the gray, silver and black interlocking bars and diagonals that compose the play’s anonymous corporate office backdrop. Designer Marjorie Bradley Kellogg’s set is cold, intimidating and a little futuristic, its scale dwarfing the merely human-size actors on the stage.


But then, playwright Jason Wells’ characters are used to thinking big. Titans of their world (and what world that is exactly—industry? politics?—we never discover), when we meet them they’re all suited up to match their surroundings and coolly discussing with an outsider their plans for eliminating their opposition. We’re never quite sure who the opposition is, either, but we do know that the plot progresses quickly from being a sniper shooting to a potential holocaust involving explosions and dozens of innocent victims. As one plotter says with no trace of irony on his part, “We’ll have to think of them as martyrs.”


That sort of biting satire is Wells’ aim in this fast-paced piece, full of overlapping, stop-and-start dialogue that may leave the audience, if not the cast, gasping. And yes, fellow playwright David Mamet comes to mind, especially in an Act II expletive-filled outburst of frustration and anger.


But Wells has his own strength in building absurdity upon absurdity, as Avery, Kling and Maxwell (Douglas Jones, David Breitbarth and Eberle Thomas, respectively) argue about how to do the deed they’re all committed to, aided by the slightly dimwitted hit man Taggart (James Clarke). And then a wrench is thrown into the works by a lower-level employee named Fletcher (Paul Molnar), who makes tycoon Thomas have second thoughts about the direction he’s taking.


Under Greg Leaming’s direction, the cast works skillfully together to make Wells’ all too believable dialogue sting. (Does the phase, “I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation” ring any bells?) That’s all the more impressive given that Thomas, in a demanding role, stepped in at late notice due to the unfortunate death of the actor originally cast. While his assurance with the part will surely grow, he already has the presence and the attitude required.


One more thing should be mentioned: Matthew Parker’s sound design, with the musical intros and outros setting just the right spooky/funny tone. Overall, Men of Tortuga presents a sharp, clever look at ruthless men in power that will make you laugh—if it doesn’t make you cry. It’s onstage in rotating rep through March 8; go to or call 351-8000 for ticket info.    
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