News briefs in 'Dirty Laundry' hamper
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic
4 and 8 p.m. today, 4 p.m. tomorrow
$17.50, $27.50 and $37
That's the central fear in "Dirty Laundry," the new play written by and starring Joe Moore and playing this weekend at the Hawai'i Theatre.
It's art imitating life for KHON news anchor Moore, since the setting is a television news station and the central character of Bryce Edwards claims to be an old-school, ethical journalist in a sea of station-manager sharks intent only on capturing ratings.
Moore has not been shy in his personal criticism of his profession and uses this play to vent his worst fears of where it may be headed. The program notes are careful to say, however, that none of the play's characters is modeled after anyone in the newsroom where Moore has worked since 1978.
Two forces drive the drama.
The first is the arrival of a new station manager, played with believable intensity by Matthew Pedersen. "We air people's dirty laundry that's what news is," says Pedersen's character, Kevin Jenkins.
Some of his ideas to attract a younger audience include recommending plastic surgery for Bryce and bringing in a sexy young woman to co-anchor.
The second plot line is the report that a boy at a youth camp has been molested by a Catholic priest.
Bryce is slow to air the allegations until they are supported by facts. His new boss insists on running with the story. And if Bryce won't read this scandalous copy on the air, the station's new bombshell, Lexie Lexus, is all too willing to step in.
This makes for a relatively strong and direct action line, although most of the twists and turns in the plot are clearly signaled well in advance. But the prolonged arguments over journalistic ethics tend to bog down the evening and are repeated more than they are developed.
The script also pulls a rabbit out of a hat for a fairly surprising ending that most of us hope for and that those with a knowledge of Hawai'i history can clearly identify from the dialogue clues.
Director Karen Bumatai keeps the pace moving, and the cast turns in uniformly good performances.
Moore is good as the standard-bearer for morality and good judgment, although the character of Bryce is neither deep nor complex. Worse, he's subject to the occasional cliche like losing his income to bad stock investments and needing to work to support an aged mother.
Sherry Chock Wong is lots of fun as bubble-headed Lexie, and Ray Bumatai is appropriately slimy as a newsroom staffer willing to blatantly suck up to the philosophy of the new boss.
James MacArthur makes a cameo appearance as the priest, and Kyle Malis and Bill Ogilvie are convincing as the boy and his father.
Local references in the dialogue, always a big hit with audiences, include school colors, oldies radio stations, and place names that salt the characters' conversation. There's also a good deal of fun to be had from references to local political figures, some of whom were noticibly visible in the opening night audience.
The production is a fund-raiser for Manoa Valley Theatre, and works well to showcase Moore and his profession. It may even arouse some critical viewing among the audience for television news.