nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 25, 2011
In his solo play Inside Straight, George Ridgeway imparts a cautionary tale about the steady diminishment in people's privacy in recent years. The main character in the piece is Johnny Ace, an information engineer, surveillance expert, and "New Age Noir Detective." The show is structured like a sort of infomercial for Johnny's services, which mostly consist of deploying high-tech devices (cameras, microphones, chips, etc.) to keep tabs on people without their knowing it.
Johnny takes us through several examples of the bugging, illicit and otherwise, that can be so easily accomplished these days. Cameras are everywhere, he tells us—on the streets, in office buildings; even, perhaps trained on our keyholes, in the hands of nosy neighbors. And if that's not enough to elicit a bit of paranoia in you, Johnny has stories of the next wave of spying device: a chip that can be implanted under the skin, enabling whoever's watching you to track your every move.
Johnny enlists the aid of several associates/experts in the course of his infomercial, including a paparazzi photographer named Maurice, an "internet evangelist" named Gabriel, a data broker named Marty, a tabloid magazine editor named Roger, a university professor named Jonathan, and, intriguingly, a "virtual doorman" named Jason who watches live video feeds of activity in dozens of apartment buildings remotely. (This a real phenomenon; read this.)
All of these characters are portrayed by Ridgeway, who uses only slight modifications in appearance, posture, and vocal tone to differentiate among them. What these men have to tell us is almost always interesting, but I wished Ridgeway and his director Letty Cruz had found more inventive ways to present them; there's a sameness throughout Inside Straight that pushes the piece overall toward repetitiveness and even ponderousness at times. The subject is compelling and timely; I wanted the production to be more dynamic.
A program note tells us "An inside straight is a poker hand that may not be as good as it seems." I found that tantalizing, and wanted to know more about where that idea might lead. But Ridgeway's script doesn't follow that path, rendering the title of the play less than satisfying as well.