‘Good Television’ Makes for Good Theater

‘Good Television’ – Written by Rob MacLachlan; Directed by David J. Miller; Presented by Zeitgeist Stage Company at BCA Plaza Black Box Theatre, 527 Tremont Street, Boston through May 17th. 

There are few populations that are better suited to the ‘life as freak show’ mentality that makes for “compelling” reality television than drug addicts and alcoholics. Camera subjects that are self-centered, impulsive, childish and wildly unpredictable are just what the viewing population craves, mostly so that they can compare their own lives and say to themselves, “I may have problems, but at least I’m not that screwed up.” And compared to your average meth head or quart-a-day Jack Daniels imbiber, Honey Boo Boo and the Kardashians are well, a little boring. Unfortunately, that same population – one which wreaks havoc not only in their own lives but pretty much anyone in their dysfunctional orbit – is not particularly well served by being the subjects of said freak shows, particularly if they’re intending to clean up their acts and get sober. 
And that is precisely the premise of “Good Television”, now being presented by David Miller and Zeitgeist Stage Company at the BCA. Is it ethically OK to take folks enduring the worst and most degrading periods of their lives and broadcast it to millions of viewers each week? The short answer is no, unless – like the soulless Dr. Drew Pinsky of “Celebrity Rehab” fame – you can rationalize that putting these poor folks through public humiliation under the guise of getting them into treatment is a good thing, and not solely about ratings and dollars. And that’s what the producers of ‘Rehabilitation’, the fictional TV show that looks an awful lot like A&E’s ‘Intervention’ (for whom playwright Rob MacLachlan’s wife was a field producer) are trying to convince themselves of. Particularly Connie, the show’s hotshot producer who gets to pick the lucky person who wins a 90 day stay at a posh rehab in exchange for letting the film crew tape the subject’s hellish existence right up until the intervention that gets them there. 
We pick up the action just as the show’s owners are doubling the number of episodes per season to pad their bottom line, even though it means the selection process for potential rehabilitatable candidates becomes a little less stringent and the probability for successful treatment (at least for plot purposes) goes down. One such candidate is Clemmy, a meth addict who lives with his divorced sister Brittany in a trailer in South Carolina. Bernice, the show’s executive producer, wants him because he’s a young, good-looking male with sex appeal, despite his glaring flaws. This does not sit well with Connie, herself a recovering alcoholic and former addiction counselor, who feels that he lacks the proper support system to maintain recovery, and more importantly, may not be all that eager to get clean and sober. When she protests that his prospects for recovery don’t look very promising even with treatment, Bernice snaps back, “‘Treatment’ will never be in charge. ‘Television’ is always in charge.”
That becomes crystal clear when the actual shooting begins and we get to see just how little the well-being of the addict and his family matters in pursuit of riveting television. We also get to see the depth of just how destructive not only Clemmy’s behavior is to himself and to those around him, but also how
the entire family has been damaged by the relationship with the alcoholic dad, who makes a late appearance. In other theatrical settings some of the scenes might appear to over the top or manipulative, but anyone who has spent any time around active alcoholism and drug addiction will have no trouble believing the turmoil that swirls through the play’s second half. 
 There are some very good performances in this show, particularly Jenny Reagan as Brittany, the sister who supports/enables Clemmy while desperately clutching onto her own sanity; Ben Lewin nails the self-centered and childish behavior of the addict in his portrayal of Clemmy; and Christine Power does a nice job as the conflicted show producer/recovering alkie. The performances are pretty solid all-around and Miller’s direction keeps things moving at a nice pace. This is a show well worth seeing, even though some of its voyeuristic appeal comes from the same wellspring of suffering that Reality TV mines. For more info, go to: http://www.zeitgeiststage.com/Zeitgeist%202014/goodtv.html