Do actors have to support a character in order to play it? This story’s a couple of days old, but still poses an intriguing question on a couple of levels. Our old friend Phelim McAleer will open another of his “verbatim” plays in San Francisco tomorrow, following up his “Ferguson” run with “The $18 Billion Prize,” a play derived from the evidence gathered in the fraudulent Chevron Shakedown case. Just as in his earlier play about the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, Phelim discovered that some actors can’t handle the truth … even in a paying gig, Kevin Mooney reported on Tuesday:
The play, which explores “the dark side of the environmental movement,” is already stirring controversy. Sources who are close to the actor have informed me that an actor who was playing the part of a New York City attorney named Steven Donziger stormed off the set after the second rehearsal.
Apparently, the actor had difficultly performing the part because it cast the environmental movement in a negative light, the sources say. But the facts attached to a lawsuit involving Chevron Corp. show that environmental activists colluded with Donziger to bribe a judge [in Ecuador] and ghostwrite a massive legal judgment against the company that initially totaled $18 billion. …
“The $18-Billion Prize reveals a dirty secret that many environmental lawsuits are frauds based on outrageous claims and sometimes outright lies and that the media are little more than stenographers for these liars,” McAleer said in an email. He also criticized “Hollywood elites” who give cover to false claims.
The play is based in large part on Donziger’s diary, which became part of the court record in Chevron’s lawsuit alleging a RICO conspiracy to defraud the company. The Supreme Court allowed lower-level rulings to stand that found fraudulent activity. And make no mistake about it, Donziger stood to gain a lot of money before US courts stepped in, Phelim points out:
The $18-Billion Prize reveals the dark side of the environmental movement, where campaigners such as Donziger go to remote locations and use locals as props in their ideological war against American corporations. In one of the most outrageous examples, Donziger secretly fought and stopped the Ecuadorian government from cleaning up their pollution because it wouldn’t look good for his case. Donziger was also going to become very rich in the process. He stood to pocket $1.2 billion before the fraud was uncovered. …
The play reveals all the incredible details, and we have an amazing cast with Richard Kuhlman directing. He loves the play and has already made some stunning changes and suggestions. It is hilarious in places, revealing the madness and hypocrisy of the celebrities who went to Ecuador to “support the natives.” It turns some of them were secretly paid an absolute fortune, and you will laugh and cry when you see how they behaved when they thought the cameras were switched off. They also didn’t know it was all recorded in his files by Steven Donziger.
That brings us back to the question of what exactly actors do. Most plays and movies have a point of view, often legitimate, sometimes less so. Actors certainly do not have a requirement to work on a production whose POV contrasts with their own, but by the same token, most of them will disclaim POV and say — rightly — that they are paid to perform, not to politick. It’s a job, not an endorsement, and most actors are happy to be working at all.
The most amusing example of this came a couple of years back, when a Twitter troll tried to claim my friend Adam Baldwin was a racist because of his dialogue as “Animal Mother” in Full Metal Jacket. Adam explained in a kindly enough fashion that, erm, actors perform from a script and that not all characters in film and stage are supposed to be sympathetic. Does anyone think that Sir Anthony Hopkins was endorsing cannibalism in The Silence of the Lambs? Or even, God forbid, serving Chianti with fava beans? Come on, man.
In this case, though, Phelim may have a point of view, but Donziger’s diaries speak for themselves. So does the court record. And it’s a paying gig. So on what basis would an actor walk out on such a production after first agreeing to play the part? What’s the ethical conflict in this situation? Even if you don’t share Phelim’s POV on radical environmentalists, the issue at hand is massive fraud and corruption. And, let us not forget, the distinction between actors and producers and the roles (so to speak) each play.
Apparently, some people can’t handle the truth, even when it’s written out for them.
If you’re in or around San Francisco over the next two weeks, make time to check out this demonstration of verbatim theater. The preview is tomorrow night and the opening on Saturday at the Phoenix Theater, and you can buy tickets on Phelim’s IndieGoGo crowdfunding site. “The $18 Billion Prize” runs Thursdays through Sundays starting tomorrow through Sunday, June 3rd.
By the way, I’m pretty sure that Jack Nicholson wasn’t endorsing Code Reds in this scene, either. On the other hand, he might have endorsed the chicken-salad order in Five Easy Pieces. Sometimes, it is hard to tell …