Encore Michigan

‘Big Red Button’ explores WW3, which seems timely. No?

Review February 04, 2018 Patrice Nolan

DETROIT – Big Red Button, the newest play by actor, singer, writer and musician Michael Perrie Jr., is now making its world premiere at Matrix Theatre in Detroit. You might think of it a dark comedy with an alternate take on the dangers of workplace flirtations.

The play is set in a bunker 300-feet below the surface of a world on the brink of nuclear war. The only ornament on the battleship-grey walls is a red button mounted dead-center and conspicuously displayed in a protective plexiglass box. We can’t not look at it. The scenery consists of two regulation army cots with battered army trunks placed nearby. Against the stage-left wall, we make out a ventilation duct and a steel ladder that climbs up into the blackness of a tunnel that presumably leads to the surface.

As the show opens, two young adults pop out of this portal, climb down the ladder and begin to look around the bunker. Adam (Patrick JT Flanagan) is an awkward but essentially pleasant man who seems to have no unexpressed thoughts. Marie (Carmel Inez) is a confident, strong and private woman who is quickly annoyed by Adam’s incessant babble. The two have volunteered for the quasi-military position of living in the bunker – in total isolation and without relief – until receiving further instructions. The assumption is that they will be told either to stand down… or to push the Big Red Button that will begin a nuclear missile strike and effectively conclude WWIII and the world as we know it. Their reward is survivor status, until the food runs out, or they go crazy and kill each other. Within the first 10 days, the latter seems more likely.

Director Luna Alexander keeps much of the action low to the ground – with the actors sitting on their bunks or even on the floor – and this heightens the sense that “the button” and the nuclear missile it represents dominate every thought and action. It’s nicely claustrophobic.

Armageddon aside, this is a comedy like many others, in which two different people, isolated from the rest of the world and thrown into intimate proximity, must find the right way to connect after getting off to a bad start. The banter is light and humorous. Flanagan and Inez earn plenty of laughs not through clever repartee but because of the stark honesty that co-dependence forces them into. The days pass without any contact from the outside. Adam admits that he has had two different women respond to his advances with, “not if you were the last man on earth,’ and he worries about fulfilling this prophesy. He is smitten with Maria. He secretly carves their names in a heart on the warhead. Maria, however, is more preoccupied with wondering about “what’s going on up there” … and if there even IS anything up there anymore. Even worse, she is haunted by a metaphoric dream in which she unwittingly becomes the bomb.

The Big Red Button explores our need to connect as part of what defines our humanity, and the choices we make that cause us to meet or miss. Adam and Maria have both promised to push the button – knowing what that means. But both are sentient human beings and compliance is not assured; they have a choice. The tension sustained throughout this 80-minute comedy is created by an implied question: will they choose each other, and if they do, can they disconnect from everything they’ve ever known? Can they push the button?

Director Luna Alexander designed the sound for this show. The production team includes Megan Buckley-Ball (Sound Engineer), Amy Schneider (Lighting Designer), Gwen Lindsay (Scenic/Props Designer), and Sarah Drum (Stage Manager).

The Big Red Button is surprisingly funny while not being overtly political. It’s really about Adam and Marie and how they will ultimately define their relationship. The play is too conversation-dependent to hold the attention of young audiences, but it will certainly appeal to adults old enough to remember the Cold War or prescient enough to find the current rhetoric between Washington, D.C. and Pyongyang worrisome. Perhaps not for all tastes – this isn’t whacky slapstick comedy – optimists and pessimists alike will find much to chew on.

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Week of 10/19/2020

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