America is far from a perfect place. The 5 to 1 Theatre Ensemble seems to understand that much. Through their political satire “Those Scary Reds,” we’re given a look into the hysteria of the Cold War era and how the horrid things that Americans did then are just as prevalent in this day and age.
But it’s hilarious rather than dry and dull. I promise.
Those Scary Reds follows the story of America’s ‘fight’ against communism during the Cold War. Offering a skewed view on history, the story opens exactly 30 seconds after the victory celebration of World War II. The drinks are flowing and people are cheering until a newspaper with the latest terror comes into the room. Communism has hit America and it is spreading like the plague. From here, we’re introduced to two politicians, one simply named Mr. Chairman (Jonathan Thompson) and Daniel Bennett (Bryan Smith). The duo wrack their brains to find a solution for the “commun-ity” of communism.
In enters Alex Chambers (Elise Barberis), a young woman who graduated at the top of her class with a PhD but only holds a position in their office as a secretary. It is the 1950s after all. She presents the idea to brainwash the populace through propaganda. To force them to blindly view communism as pure evil, regardless of the repercussions. America needs to be saved. But her plan lacks a figurehead. A brave hero to end communism’s oppression.
How about Joseph McCarthy (Sam Thompson), a young nobody lawyer who has locked himself in his office for three months for fear of catching airborne Stalinism? “Doesn’t he seem a little bit crazy?” remarks Chambers. “Crazy good, you mean.”
From here, all hell breaks loose. McCarthy’s insanity drives Bennett and Chambers through the roof, America is eating it up all too quickly, and J Edgar Hoover is questioning his sexuality. This batch of political nuts run their campaign up and down, pushing their doubts and questions aside to stop communism in its tracks.
Those Scary Reds is a clear piece of satire and a brilliant one at that. Chris Peterman and Ricky Zipp’s script is packed with social commentary that is hilariously disheartening with scenarios that are inherently bonkers, but it maintains a through line that keeps audiences engaged from beginning to end.
Their script is only enhanced by the energetic performances given by the entire ensemble. A few standouts are the nervous and twitchy Bennett who is performed almost perfectly by Bryan Smith and the portrayal of Senator McCarthy by Sam Thompson who balances quiet rage with hilarious moments of clarity.
Those Scary Reds plays with ideas that seem extremely relevant in this day and age. It presents America as a society stuck in a vicious cycle that sees no end. Oppression. War. Manipulation. Oppression. War. Manipulation. While it focuses on the insanity of the Cold War, the sad truth is that the play could be given a few small tweaks to be about any demographic that has ever been villainized. They tackle a few specific demographics throughout the performances as well. The 5 to 1 Theatre Ensemble offers up a hilarious dissection of the mob mentality that still plagues America today and by the end of it, you’re left with a chuckle in your gut and a frown on your face.
Obviously, “Those Scary Reds” won’t be for everyone. It is intended for mature audiences only, for one. It fights against a number of values held by Americans all throughout the nation, it is loud and contentious, and it doesn’t care what you think. Frankly, the type of people who wouldn’t see this play are probably locked in their rooms for fear of airborne ISIS-ism anyway.
Those Scary Reds finishes its run over the weekend, May 1 and 2 at 7:30 PM at the Majestic Theatre. $10 a ticket for the general public and $8 for members, students, and seniors.
by Nathan Hermason