On paper, the set-up of Plan-B Theatre Company's Clearing Bombs is a risky proposition.
Take two economists who disagree, trap them on a roof to debate the merits of various economic theories, and expect an audience to come along for the ride? In less sure hands than those of playwright Eric Samuelsen, the 90 minutes of Clearing Bombs could have made the audience feel like they were trapped on that Cambridge, England, roof along with John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek, hoping for an explosion to end their suffering.
Instead, Samuelsen delivers a script that is hilarious, passionate and never less than enthralling as Keynes (Mark Fossen) and Hayek (Jay Perry) parry and thrust their way through a night-long debate for the benefit of Mr. Bowles (Kirt Bateman), an English everyman who joins the two academics for a turn watching for German bombers atop King's College Chapel at the height of World War II.
The economists, of course, are real, and their debates between laissez faire economics--Hayek's preference--and an economy regulated for the good of the populace (that'd be Keynes) make for some inspired dialogue. Keynes mocks Hayek at one point for his insistence on letting the markets run themselves free from regulation--"That's your religion, isn't it? Freedom"--while Hayek counters Keynes belief in using regulation to push the economy to help the citizenry: "An economist cannot afford the luxury of compassion."
Mr. Bowles is a fictional character, a worthy stand-in for the viewing audience, who is being educated by the two economists while being swayed back and forth by their arguments as they proceed.
Samuelsen's script could not be in better hands; Fossen, Perry and Bateman all give stirring performances. It's difficult to listen to the debate without being convinced along with Mr. Bowles. And Bowles is easy to empathize with as he describes his five children, all serving the war effort in way or another; as Bowles puts it repeatedly, his family is just "doing our part."
The sound effects of approaching bombers help give the proceedings an urgency that helps heighten the drama on stage, the period costumes are on point, and the set ably captures the rooftop environs. But Samuelsen's words and the performances of the actors are the reason to see Clearing Bombs. You'll find yourself gripped by economic theory in ways you never thought possible.
Clearing Bombs runs Thursday through Sunday at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center; visit the Plan-B Theatre Company website for showtimes, tickets and more information. Photos by Rick Pollock, courtesy of Plan-B Theatre Company.