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« That's All She Wrote turns TWO!! Watch on the Rhine: Tense Preview of World War II at The Artistic Home »

Theater Mon Oct 06 2014

Reliving Scandals of the '80s in Timeline's Danny Casolaro Died for You

Kyle Hatley, Demetrios Troy and Jamie Vann. Photo by Lara Goetsch.

The names and events are vaguely familiar, if you were consuming political news in the 1980s and '90s. Iran-contra. BCCI ("the world's sleaziest bank," according to a Time magazine cover). Bert Lance. The Church committee. Wackenhut Security. The CIA and Central American drug cartels. The Sandinistas. The Iran hostage crisis.

The governmental scandals those terms represent were linked by a software platform called PROMIS (owned by Inslaw, a not-for-profit software company), which was designed to connect various government agency databases. (Remember, this was in the 1980s. The lack of interagency connectivity was considered one of the flaws that left us vulnerable to the attacks of September 11, 2001.)

Timeline Theatre dredges up those memories in telling the tense and tightly wound story of a freelance journalist named Danny Casolaro, who tried to put the tangled pieces together for a big story. He ended up dead on the floor of a hotel room in Martinsburg, W.Va., in August 1991. The question asked in Danny Casolaro Died for You is: Was it suicide or murder?

Kyle Hatley plays Casolaro with the right amount of intensity and carelessness about his own well-being, much to the distress of his cousin, Thomas Vacarro (Demetrios Troy). Tommy is a psychology professor, charismatic seminar presenter, and "psychologist to the stars." He sees an opportunity in the story Danny is weaving together (which Danny calls "the Octopus") and tries to set up meetings with media companies like Time Warner to sell Danny's story for big bucks. Bill Hamilton (Jamie Vann), the inventor of the software program, impatient with Danny's delay in getting his story out, undercuts Danny's exclusive by giving his story to Time.

Danny's efforts to gain clarity about the story are confounded by the assortment of officials, FBI agents, grifters and con men with whom he meets. Four actors -- Philip Earl Johnson, Mark Richard, Dennis William Grimes and Vann -- play these multiple parts. Johnson is particularly good as the wealthy Robert Nichols, a sleazy businessman with ties to the underworld and the intelligence community. He and Danny meet at dinner at the Four Seasons restaurant, and Nichols observes, between bites of steak and Brussels sprouts, "If you continue this investigation, you will die."

Food takes a central role in several scenes. In the opening scene, Danny is cooking pasta and making sauce from scratch when his cousin appears. They argue about the amount of garlic in the gravy (the colloquial Italian term for pasta sauce). Tommy tests the spaghetti the correct way -- by grabbing a strand out of the pot and tasting it. They sit down together and eat spaghetti and gravy to catch up on family news and discuss the Octopus.

But later Danny protests to Tommy: "You think I want to be a hero? Go down to Martinsburg with six guns blazing? I want... I want to be on 'Nightline.' I want them to cut to me, and there's this little title under my neck: Conspiracy Expert, Danny Casolaro. And maybe Langley spliced into the backdrop, or the Pentagon. And I am sharing my great wisdom: 'Well, Ted, I think what we have to keep in mind in cases like this is, these men have no hearts... you know what I mean, Ted?'"

Tommy closes the play with these words: "These men have no hearts. And they killed my cousin."

Nick Bowling's direction takes us smoothly back and forth in time from Danny's research and interviews to the later investigations of his death and interrogations of his cousin. Collette Pollard's scenic design and Jesse Klug's lighting succeed in highlighting these scenes so that one set serves as office, airport, restaurant, hotel room or jail cell. Josh Horvath's original music and sound design add to the tension.

The play, based on actual events, was written for the stage by Casolaro's cousin, playwright Dominic Orlando (not the cousin portrayed in his play). Orlando's research included interviews with Danny's family and friends, the House Judiciary Committee's report on the Inslaw case, and media accounts of Danny's death. As usual, Timeline's outstanding playbill and lobby background materials help to clarify and untangle the tentacles of the Octopus.

Timeline's production is only the second staging of the play, which had its world premiere at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre on Cape Cod. Orlando has also written a screenplay for a feature film set to begin production this year.

Danny Casolaro Died for You runs through Dec. 21 at Timeline Theatre, 615 W. Wellington. Running time is two hours, ten minutes, including one intermission. Performances are Wednesday through Sunday at varying times. Tickets are $39-52 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-281-8463.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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