Chicago Theatre Review
Suicide or Murder?
Danny Casolaro Died for You – Timeline Theatre
In early August of 1991, freelance investigative reporter and aspiring author Danny Casolaro told friends and family he was driving to Martinsburg, West Virginia. There he was meeting with a source who would provide the key information necessary for him to complete his current investigation. Danny was compiling research for a book aimed at exposing the men whose dirty dealings and secret governmental schemes were linked with the Inslaw case, the Iran-Contra affair, the exposure of the BCCI (which Time Magazine called “the world’s sleaziest bank”) and the October Surprise. Two days later, Casolaro’s naked body was found in a bathtub of bloody water, both arms slashed more than a dozen times with a razor. Shockingly, his next-of-kin wasn’t notified for another two days and, although there was little to confirm it, Danny’s death was ruled a suicide. Even more suspicious was that authorities ordered the body to be quickly embalmed before an autopsy could be performed.
Casolaro never had a chance to finish his book that was to be entitled The Octopus. His scrutiny would’ve revealed a far-reaching conspiracy, starting with the Inslaw case, a company founded by Bill Hamilton, in which manufacturer Michael Riconosciuto accused the Justice Department of stealing his software program entitled PROMIS. He claimed it was then modified to enable users to be able to track people and their global money movement. The reporter then went on to gather more information linking this theft to the fraudulence and ultimate collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. Casolaro also was detailing how the Iran hostage situation had been prolonged in order to help Ronald Reagan sew up the 1980 presidential election. All of these events were somehow related and represented the many tentacles of an Octopus, hence the title of his book.
Written by Dominic Orlando, Danny’s real-life cousin, this fast-moving drama that plays out like like a feature film is, ironically, about to become just that. In only its second production, Mr. Orlando’s play is bookended by a narrative by Danny’s cousin, Professor Thomas Vacarro, a fictionalized stand-in. Vacarro is played with frenetic urgency and anguish by the multitalented Chicago actor, Demetrios Troy (so exceptional in TimeLine’s “Blood and Gifts”). Handsome Kyle Hatley, making his much-welcome TimeLine debut, is brilliant in the title role. His portrayal of this young journalist who’s stumbled into a mire of conspiracy is arresting. Audiences swept up in this high-octane production will find themselves more than willing to follow Hatley on Danny’s journey to ferret out the truth.
Unbelievably, until revealed at the curtain call, only four actors in Director Nick Bowling’s stellar cast create the remaining 17 diverse, supporting characters. Mark Richard plays a caffeinated, choleric and often comic Michael Riconosciuto. Jamie Vann is terrific as a comic Bill Hamilton, as well as playing Agent Hunt, Dr. John, Alan Spar and others. Dennis William Grimes smoothly transitions from Agent Howard to Brian Ehrlich, Thomas Gates, Jeff Beagle and other minor roles. Philip Earl Johnson takes on the challenge of Peter Videnieks, George Wackenhut, Joseph Cuellar and Robert Nichols. Nick Bowling’s direction of the play is justly terse and compact. He’s kept the play’s multiple scenes and ever-changing characters in constant motion, like a juggler balancing on a teeter-totter. His production is superbly enhanced by Collete Pollard’s environmental scenic design, Jesse Klug’s distinctive illumination and Joshua Horvath’s original music and sound design.
This isn’t an easy-going, casual entertainment; however, for the thinking theatergoer, this production is the mother lode. Paced faster than a French farce, this is a play for discerning audiences who enjoy being totally immersed in events that encourage making observations, formulating personal judgements and synthesizing those events and characters into their own experiences. Adding to the experience, the TimeLine lobby has been transformed into an exciting, interactive maze of information that extends the audience’s ability to grasp the variety of names and facts. TimeLine has once again succeeded in making history come alive.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented by TimeLine Theatre Company, 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-281-8463 or by going to www.timelinetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.