Web of Lies

Bradenton Herald – Actor Jason Wells just wanted to get his feet wet as a playwright. So he wrote a piece about politics and power-hungry leaders, calling the dark, but humourous drama “Men of Tortuga” and premiered it in 2006 at the Asolo Repertory Theatre.

The show was a hit. It was recently published and now is distributed by Samuel French Inc. — an accomplishment Wells is very proud of.

Now Wells is back with another politically-charged thriller, “Perfect Mendacity,” which will have its world premiere at 8 p.m. Friday at the Asolo. This dark drama, infused with humor, is about a man whose past might be catching up with him. His only hope may be to beat a lie detector.

“He’s about to literally confront exactly what kind of man he is and what kind of man he’s been throughout his life,” Wells said.

But can an ongoing string of lies save his reputation and his marriage?

You’ll have to see the show to find out.

“Perfect Mendacity” is weaved around issues of foreign policy, racism, ethics and, of course, lies. In it, Walter, the lead character, is a scientist who works for a defense contractor. His job is to handle weaponized anthrax. When unsavory events from his past start leaking out, he is asked to take a lie detector test so the truth can be revealed.

Walter’s goal is to pass the test with flying colors, even if he has to lie his way through it. He overcomes his racism by enlisting D’Avore Peoples, who is black, to help him with the test.

DeMario McGrew plays Peoples, who becomes Walter’s angel in a time of need.

McGrew, a recent graduate of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, finds the scenario intriguing.

“You can be put in a situation where your back is against the wall and the very person that you probably didn’t even want to go to for help is where your deliverance is,” McGrew said. “That’s when you get pulled out. And it’s beautiful to see this relationship because it happens that way.”

David Breitbarth stars as Walter. He said his character is a bit of a jerk stuck between a rock and a hard place.

He has to figure out what the ramifications will be if he lies or tells the truth — or if he can get away with doing both somehow.

Breitbarth believes the play is brilliant. It shows an intersection of private and political lives and the vicious circle it creates.

“There’s really no escaping it,” said Breitbarth, who also performed in “Men of Tortuga.” “And how much of our lives really is based on the lies that are told — from the top to the bottom? . . . Is it all lies? Are we doing whatever we can to not tell the truth?”

The seed for “Perfect Mendacity’s” was planted in Wells’ mind years earlier when he read a book about lie detectors and polygraphs.

“I found that there were a lot of unanswered questions in there,” he said of the book. “That always gives something a sense of mystery. And I started to think, ‘Well, how would I beat a polygraph if I was going to do it?’ ”

When the Manhattan Theatre Club commissioned Wells to write a piece with funds from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which promotes science and technology in the arts, his lie detector idea resurfaced.

It took Wells about a year to write the piece. The show had a workshop run in Chicago last year.

Actress Diana Simonzadeh, who plays Walter’s Arabian wife, Samira, participated in a cold reading of the play prior to the run at Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre.

Simonzadeh loves the multi-faceted, colorful character she portrays.

“She’s sort of caught in the middle of this corrupt triangle and she’s forced to get involved,” she said. “And its because she loves her husband and she feels that in order to save him she has to get involved.”

Wells is currently finishing a third play — another political thriller.

Wells is glad to exercise his writing talents, though he still enjoys acting.

“Sometimes I feel I’m just playing at writer,” Wells said. “But that’s one of the things that actors like to do is play different parts. So the part I’m playing now, I’m playing the part of the writer, and it feels good.”

published May 14, 2009

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