by Jo Ledingham - February 21, 2001
Valparaiso is one of those scripts that sits on the page so it's a good thing there are risk-taking directors like Michael Schaldemose and actors who can do interesting riffs on characters. Black-and-white scratches on the page begin to accumulate, resonate, and eventually illuminate a chilling reality. The bad news is that most of us have already stared that reality in the face: the media is a whoremonger and many of us are willing to be whores for a few minutes of fame. The good news is that this Virtual Stage Co-op production, with the support of Way Off Broadway, is sharp looking (expensive, cushy black leather furniture and huge projections on an upstage overhead screen), cleverly directed and excellently performed.
Actor Andy Thompson is Michael Majeski in Don DeLillo's scorching comment on our hate/love affair with the media. Thompson grows-and the word is used ironically-from a tongue-tied, news-shy guy to a swaggering, babbling pawn of the print, radio,TV and film industries. His moment of fame expands obscenely as the purveyors of non-news egg him on: "Tell us precisely. Tell us everything. We deeply need to know." The news item that Michael initially blurts with some embarrassment, then embellishes with increasing braggadocio is that he set out for Valparaiso,Indiana (or maybe Florida) but ended up in Valparaiso, Chile: "I'm beginning to think that people need my story. There's something in the symmetry of my mistake that shakes the heart and approaches a condition of wonder." Yuh.
Voraciously manipulating him are various interviewers but the really big scene comes when Michael gets his day on an Oprah-like talk show. Actor Enuka Okuma, her lips shiny as wet cherries, is Delphina and Ray Galletti, slick-haired and pearly-toothed, is Teddy. The real, central, defining event of Michael's life is, of course, never talked about. Diana Swayze plays Michael's celebrity-hungry wife Livia. Every bit as eager as Michael to spill the beans, she can't wait to tell the world what she likes to do after sex.
Valparaiso is a smart, hip and funny reminder about the soul-sucking media and our willingness to suck up. It doesn't tell you anything you don't already know but it goes farther and it does it with style. Uh-oh: have we been had-again?