The pop music classics of the 1980’s intermixed with audio clips of President Ronald Reagan telling jokes is an apt pre-show soundtrack to playwright Alix Sobler’s Hindsight. With Stoppardian flair, Ms. Sobler manages to make an exploration of the 1987 elimination of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s Fairness Doctrine into a cleverly informative non-linear 90-minute entertainment.
Wearing a plaid shirt, a masked woman enters and takes a seat at a desk. She eventually takes the mask off, “Should we start? We should probably start right?” She announces that she is the playwright, and she really is as this role is played by Sobler. She has a deadpan yet passionate presence as she engagingly interjects her observations during the presentation while occasionally interacting with the audience.
The backstory of the production is imparted. Sobler was commissioned by the Fault Line Theatre which “creates and produces socially relevant, character-driven plays for today’s audiences” to write a political work in time for the 2020 presidential election, but the production was delayed by the pandemic. She came across the 1987 case of the Fairness Doctrine and decided that was a suitable topic for dramatization.
For the sharply written play’s first 20 minutes we get cute and self-conscious “metatheatricality” as the difficulties of tackling such subject matter are stated. Then there’s representatives battling during Washington, D.C. office scenes, a contentious Thanksgiving family dinner where political issues are argued, and a dance sequence accompanied by a Whitney Houston song. These are often interrupted by Sobler proclaiming, “No, let’s go back…” It all ultimately coheres, concluding with a moving mini coup de theatre.
The dynamic ensemble of Andrea Abello, Craig Wesley Divino, Lynnette R. Freeman, Daniel Pearce, and Luis Vega all exhibit tremendous comedic and dramatic skills in their multiple roles wearing costume designer Dina El-Aziz’s smart everyday outfits.
Director Aaron Rossini’s energetic, brisk and precise staging is a great asset to the production as the cast rapidly moves through time and space on scenic designer Tristan Jeffers’ fine configuration of basic furniture. Cha See’s lighting design and Chad Raines’s sound design both add neat flourishes.
According to Wikipedia, the Fairness Doctrine:
…required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.
The emergence of Rush Limbaugh, the rise of right-wing talk radio, the dominance of Fox News and the legality of tycoons buying multiple media outlets in the same region are soberly traced by Sobler to the 1987 vote by the five FCC commissioners to gut the Fairness Doctrine.
Hindsight is a highly theatrical rendered blend of facts, opinion and imaginative dramatic writing.
Hindsight (live through October 23, 2021; steaming October 19 – 24, 2021)
Fault Line Theatre
Paradise Factory Theater, 64 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.faultlinetheatre.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission