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Performance Review:

Michael Martin’s "HINCKLEY ON FOSTER: THE HEARING" at Pilsen Theater

BY LUCIA MAURO

In his program notes to "Hinckley on Foster: The Hearing," Michael Martin squeezes in more fascinating facts that reveal the intricately entwined lives of actress Jodie Foster and John W. Hinckley, Jr., the man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to declare his love for her. Martin, who wrote and performs in this microscopically perceptive one-man play/cultural analysis, points out in those notes that he includes these odd facts "to fill white space here, which I can’t stand."

There is no "white space" in his brilliant, factually jam-packed monologue either in which Martin portrays Hinckley appearing before an invisible panel of psychologists to argue the case for his release. Running at the Pilsen Theatre, with added performances at the Lunar Cabaret, "Hinckley on Foster" is probably one of the last local opportunities to catch Martin before he and his partner, Eric Webb, move to New Orleans.

I recommend that Martin – a masterful observer and commentator on the state of mass media and its effects on the human condition – publish his densely prescient monologues so that readers have an opportunity to linger over his enlightening views on everything from the repercussions of Hollywood to the responsibility of artists to the rampant discrimination and shams that constitute the structure of society. This show is the third installment in his "accidental trilogy" addressing the sociopolitical ramifications of celebrity/pop culture: "Justine Bateman" (1997) and "Quentin T Do Amateur Night at de Apollo" (1999).

It’s difficult to begin to discuss the omni layers of detail, research and dramatic skill that have gone into crafting this piece, which reexamines Hinckley’s obsession with Foster from the large-scale perspective of Foster’s own damaging artistic and lifestyle choices. At the same time, Martin does not side with Hinckley or Foster. Instead he illustrates the long-term effects of "The Dream Factory" on reality and questions the complex issues surrounding personal as well as artistic culpability and/or absolution.

Although Martin delivers a confident and multitiered performance under Kate Currier’s direction, he can still smooth the pace and – as painful as it might be – cut at least 20 minutes out of the script (the show runs almost two hours without an intermission and loses steam after Hinckley’s pivotal breakdown scene).

One may even accuse Martin of following Foster’s career with the same obsessive fervor as Hinckley – down to how her family reacted to her liquidy hypnotic eyes at birth or the fact that Foster and Meg Ryan (both love conquests of Russell Crowe) were born on November 19. But the writer-actor does not merely toss out these tidbits to demonstrate a maniacal fixation on Hollywood legends or to celebrate his love of minutia.

He chooses his references very carefully to draw attention to the seemingly silent strategies used by film producers, directors, writers, actors, etc., to manipulate audiences’ emotions toward the tone or message of the story at hand or toward the stars’ personal lives.

Then Martin – in his intense studies of the films "Taxi Driver," "The Accused" and "Silence of the Lambs" – does something quite extraordinary and daring. He raises the crucial question of how Hollywood can so cavalierly expose and take away the lives of the real people whose stories it buys and reshapes while fiercely protecting the privacy of its celebrities. At the core of this bristling American tragedy, Martin argues how deeply audiences believe the movie version – not the real version (wryly noting, though, that Erin Brockovich seems happy). He further solidifies the long-held truth that appearing on TV – as Hinckley most certainly did after his assassination attempt – guarantees one’s place in history or infamy.

"Hinckley on Foster" is an intense and astute dissection of modern civilization as viewed through the eyes of a character unable to distinguish between reality and illusion – yet fully capable of seeing the ugly truths behind the Hollywood gloss.

Martin has his finest moment on stage during his tour de force cataloging of every Jodie Foster film, made-for-TV movie and commercials. He musically recites how she typically portrayed a tough, fatherless woman with a fear of intimacy or a tortured child genius or a tramp and so on to show how the actress never veered into that subtle territory between virgin and whore. He takes us all the way back to Foster’s playfully erotic Coppertone ad as a child in which a dog pulls down her bathing suit bottoms to reveal her seemingly innocent tan lines.

The writer-actor’s probing into the subliminal caverns of media, marketing and the parallel creations of a star and a killer will make audiences think twice about regarding movies – and the hysterical hype it feeds to eager consumers -- as a harmless pastime.•

Michael Martin’s "Hinckley on Foster: The Hearing" runs through March 31 Sundays at the Pilsen Theater, 556 W. 18th St., and Fridays and Saturdays at Lunar Cabaret, 2827 N. Lincoln. Tickets: $10. Call 312-409-1887.

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