Bloomington Playwrights Project: Men of Tortuga

As the lights come up on Jason Well’s "Men of Tortuga" at the Bloomington Playwrights Project three well dressed men in business suits and a fourth in more casual attire are discussing the distance and trajectory of an assassination bullet. Drew Bratton, John Maness and Gerard Pauwels play the businessmen. Lee Parker is the outside professional they’ve brought in as a consultant.

The play unfolds on a simple stage where a table, some office chairs and a drink stand take on different identities through simple but effective geometry. Bratton’s character is the moderator, Maness’s is the firebrand, Pauwels’ is as committed to the project as the other two, but comes from an earlier generation

The trio’s status as people of power in business and politics is quickly established, but so is their rank amateurism as killers. The discussion of possible means and greater and lesser degrees of collatoral damage are at times grimly comical. The consultant delivers a fascinatingly professional and funny argument about Judas using a kiss to identify Christ, because it was part of his escape plan. The assassination rifle becomes a shoulder-fired missile, a lethal briefcase is added, and later a sort of nerve gas.

It is Pauwel’s older character who meets with an eagerly naive champion of compromise played by Alex Shotts. Their tension filled scenes were quite tours de force with some more of the plotters craziness coming out. The older business man tells the compromiser that saving children is all well and good, but there are easier ways to get people to like you and that the real reason the Puritans killed witches was because it was fun.

As the scenes develop we get to know these plotters a bit better, but the mystery of just what these conspirators’ objectives are and who their adversary is, is left a mystery.

Their plotting unravels in a surprising way and there’s a confrontation with the plotters, the consultant and the compromiser. In a whirlwind of developments, the compromiser is first threatened with death and then offered everything he’s wanted, but he staggers off, simply too shattered to take it. The consultant takes to his heels and the business men confidently resolve to spin the story and ride it out.

Throughout "Men of Tortuga" the characters are deeply realized and very interesting. Playwright Well’s delights in language and in the thrust and parry of complex dialog.Director Bruce Burgun has them performing like a chamber group with the solos, duos, trios and quartets of dialog. It’s very involving theatre with more than a few of the moral questions of our time very much in the flux

"Men of Tortuga" at the Bloomington Playwrights Project plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at eight and Sundays at two through …

You can find an interview with director Bruce Burgun on our Arts Interviews page .

George Walker

After completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

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