Friday, February 3, 2023

Theatre Review: The Dirty Politics of Boca Stage’s “Warrior Class”

The dirty machinations and casual quid pro quos of the political swamp are at the heart of “Warrior Class,” Boca Stage’s first production since the pandemic. These are subjects familiar to playwright Kenneth Lin, who wrote five episodes of “House of Cards,” and who populates the script with Beltway jargon and a learned cynicism.

And nobody in this compact three-character play is more cynical than Nathan, a creature of the Washington muck played Wayne LeGette. He’s the sort of figure who’s comfortable anywhere expensive meat is served, cigars are enjoyed, and three-piece suits are de rigueur, all the better to hide the lizard scales underneath.

LeGette had plenty of real-life shadowy influencers from which to draw for this role, names we know mostly through ignominy, like Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and Vernon Jordan. He’s the kind of D.C. professional without an official title on his business card, and the nebulous nature of his job is best captured when Holly (Jacqueline Laggy), whom he’s meeting for lunch in a Baltimore restaurant, asks him what he does for a living. After a judicious beat, he responds, “I’m retired.”

In truth, he’s representing Julius Lee (Paul Wong), a young, Chinese-American Republican state assemblyman in New York with a gift of gab, a marketable backstory—decorated Marine, devout Christian—and ambitions for higher office. “He’s one of the good ones—I think he’s going to change the world,” Nathan offers of his client, LeGette doing his gamest to keep a straight face.

Nathan is lunching with Holly as part of his usual vetting process: Holly dated Julius for two years in college, and evidently it didn’t end well. The 19-year-old Julius “stalked” her for weeks, and “terrorized” her dorm. She has letters and photographs attesting to his mental instability, and she is willing to go public about these transgressions. Unless, perhaps, Nathan can offer her out-of-work husband a government job.

“Warrior Class” is a play that says all the right things about how politics really work, capturing the false niceties and double-talk, the commonplace extortions and briberies that corrupt even the most bushy-tailed idealists. But the conversations too often feel constructed from shards on the “House of Cards” cutting-room floor. There’s nothing particularly revelatory here, and Boca Stage’s storytelling searches for a crackling catharsis that isn’t there.

The rust of a year and a half without live theatre is visible in pockets of this production. There are awkward shifts in Genie Croft’s directorial tone, as when Julius coldly snaps at Holly in their one scene together, only for both to revert, jarringly, to the superficial amicability of their previous conversation.

As Julius, Wong exudes his character’s neophyte naivety but is short on the charisma that has reportedly made him such a hot property in Republican politics. LeGette should be perfect for Nathan, but on opening night he seemed to still be finding the natural rhythms and inflections of the dialogue; too many lines weren’t exactly fitting with snugness of his Brooks Brothers tailoring.

Only Laggy feels perfect in her part, oscillating accurately between pawn and knight in the invisible chess game unfolding before her, excelling as both the aggrieved housewife and the increasingly cunning political player. The role fits her like a glove, and it’s maybe her finest performance since “Sex With Strangers” at Arts Garage.

But it’s perhaps telling that the production concludes with an emotional overselling. The lights dim, and sounds of warfare trigger Julius’ PTSD, much ado for what amounts to a minor setback in a still privileged and promising political career. The bombs that explode in his head don’t make up for the play’s dearth of diegetic fireworks.

“Warrior Class” runs through Nov. 21 at Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $45-$50. Masks are required inside the building. Call 561/447-8829 or visit bocastage.net.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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