The Illuminati, the Star Chamber, secret, extra-legal cabals that are the real rulers of the world—such groups have spawned a lot of fiction. Some were real; certainly the Star Chamber was in Tudor England. The name “cabal” itself is an acronym formed by the names of five ministers of Charles II—Sir Thomas Clifford, Lord Arlington, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Ashley and Lord Lauderdale. The Illuminati was a real Enlightenment Era group formed in Bavaria to “oppose superstition, religious influence over public life and abuses of state power” (Wikipedia). In the Twentieth Century, Ian Fleming lampooned the notion with the fictional criminal cabal SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion).
Charlie Mount’s entertaining thriller, The Leather Apron Club, suggests that the course of progress in America has been guided and determined by a society founded by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s and continues right up to today. Such societies are sinister by their very nature. In this work of dramatic fiction, this society of unelected, unsupervised individuals has enormous power to shape events globally. In the play, which takes place in a house in Virginia two months after the events of September 11, 2001, four individuals gather to draft a new member. Their expertise is in media, science, military and government. The prospective inductee, James Avery (Adam Conger), a brilliant young hotshot with a social conscience, wants to change the world for the best. As a demonstration of their power, they ask Avery what he would like to see happen. He eventually decides that raising the minimum wage to coincide with rising inflation would be a good thing. Informed that it had to be a state decision, he chooses Oregon for the demonstration. All he had to do was pick up the hot-line telephone, and old-fashioned rotary dial device, and give the order.
The individual members of the cabal are chillingly human. They brandish pistols, they argue heatedly with each other, and are unhesitant about ordering people into deadly situations. The leader is Grace Keebler (silky Ashley Taylor), whose overtly sexual flirtations with Avery mask an amoral, stone cold heart. The oldest member, Dr. Edward Reed (Don Moss), Avery’s employer, has an enormous burden of guilt, born of experiments that had terrible global repercussions. The Pentagon man, Col. Gil Hart (Yancey Dunham), is a swaggering stereotype, gruff and absolute in his convictions of patriotism. Elliot Blake (Alan Schack), the media guy, drinks and argues while scientist Kent Garfield (Roger Kent Cruz) dreams of outer and space and endless sources of power.
The show takes a stage left turn with scenes featuring the brash radio talk-show host, Artie Stein (Anthony Battelle), who chats with radio call-in crazies and banters with a religious, right-wing senator (Karen Ragan-George) who has her eyes set on the White House.
The Leather Apron Club certainly engages the attention. The show is played with passion and commitment across the board, even as it devolves into a lot second act shouting. The playwright has written in unforeseen surprises and created wonderfully flawed characters, none of whom are ultimately likeable. There are no heroes here.
The cast, under the direction of the playwright, Charlie Mount, keeps the action brisk. The production boasts a fine scenic design by Jeff G. Rack, which is well lit by Yancey Dunham. The sound design by Mr. Mount is quite good, if a tad too loud for my taste.
This revival of The Leather Apron Club has a limited run that ends on July 31 at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd West, Los Angeles.