“Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word,” Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) notoriously tells the parole board in “The Shawshank Redemption.” “So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”
Three decades into her incarceration as an accessory to the murder of a police officer, Alison Moulten, the heroine (or anti-heroine) of Willy Holtzman’s “Something You Did,” which opened this week at Theater J in Washington, D.C., is as cynical as Red is about the prospect of freedom. But whereas Red mocks the parole board, Moulten decides to contact the victim’s daughter (Aakhu Freeman) and tries to enlist her help, as well as that of a former colleague-lover turned political nemesis.
Holtzman and director Eleanor Holdridge present the most sympathetic portrait imaginable of Moulten (Deborah Hazlett), a stand-in for the Weather Underground Jewish radical Kathy Boudin, who was part of a 1984 armed robbery that left three dead. Moulten counsels fellow inmates with AIDS, runs a literacy program, and helps a guard (Lolita-Marie) dodge a $200 traffic violation ticket. Though it remains mysterious how naming names would improve her situation, Moulten also refuses to identify her co-conspirators, who planted the bomb that killed the officer.
As viewers identify with Moulten, they are also encouraged to champion her left-wing lawyer Arthur Rossiter (Norman Aronovic), who was partners with Moulten’s late father. The antagonist is Eugene Biddle (Rick Foucheux), a right-wing journalist and pundit, whom Holtzman identifies with conservative writer David Horowitz.
According to Holtzman, Horowitz “was quick to label Boudin a terrorist and equate her with ‘Islamofascists,’” but he had “his own moral baggage.” Holtzman also identifies Eugene with the “post-9/11 New Right, lately known as the Tea Party.”
If the press night’s audience of donors and VIPs — who roundly applauded an association of former Vice President Dick Cheney with Hell — is any indication of the politics of Theater J’s audience, Holtzman’s themes will be well received. But the vocabulary of the play — which is more about neoconservatives than the Tea Party — is dated.
One thing about “Something You Did” is very contemporary. The Theater J season opener was supposed to be Deborah Margolin’s “Imagining Madoff,” but the production was canceled after Elie Wiesel, who is depicted, threatened legal action.
In an article in the Washington City Paper, Ari Roth, artistic director at Theater J, says that “Something You Did” differs from “Imagining Madoff” because Holtzman changes the characters’ names. But since Holtzman identifies names in the program, one wonders if Horowitz was given the same right of refusal. Or maybe, in the eyes of Theater J, neocons just fall on the Madoff side of the equation.