Watergate. Irangate. Three Mile Island. Misinformation; disinformation.
The politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats don't always tell us the truth. It's up to us to demand it; our lives may be on the line.
That's just one of a truckload of messages to be found in "Pie in the Sky," a Theatricum Botanicum production based on the Pied Piper tale and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.
This muddled "family" musical written by Ellen Geer, with music and lyrics by educational psychologist and children's recording artist Peter Alsop, also tackles other issues: pollution, nuclear arms proliferation, women's rights, macho fears, alcohol abuse, humanism, caring and sharing and tolerance.
The plot centers around the town of Avocado, home of the "Beast," a nuclear power plant polluting the area, run by a scoffing Mr. Faust.
Subtlety is not a key ingredient here. A plant executive defends nuclear power by bringing up the Malthusian doctrine espoused by Hitler: that crime, famine, disease and warfare are necessary to prevent overpopulation.
After an accident shuts down the plant and the citizens panic, a patronizing Nuclear Regulatory Commission official comes to allay their fears. Her name? Ms. Judas.
A stereotypical macho blue-collar plant employee verbally abuses his wife and son who doubt the plant's safety. At one point he knocks his son to the ground with a punch. He also swears a lot.
It's up to the kids to save the day.
As the mysterious handyman Pie, Alsop roams the stage with flute and guitar, ready to guide and to teach. During playground banter between school kids, the youngest child joins in by clinically describing the sex act. This doesn't further the plot, but does enable Alsop to reassure us that she's not bad, she just said that to make the older kids squeal. Pay attention, parents.
Geer, who directs, plays Faust's disenfranchised daughter Penelope, a gritty bag lady in an alcoholic haze who serves as truthsayer. In Geer's character, despite its bathos, we occasionally see the play that might have been.
Alsop lacks strength as an actor--not helped in Friday's opening performance by an insecurity with his lines. His forte is a sensitivity to the needs and fears of people of all ages, expressed in many funny and thoughtful recordings.
In the outdoor theater under the stars, surrounded by huge oaks and hillside, a song about a child confronting a nightmare and a ballad sung with Geer about an old rosewood guitar were the most genuine moments of the evening.
Alsop and the audience would have been better served if he had simply stood on stage and sung for an hour.
The rest of the cast does well enough, particularly the many children in the show, but it's a long, hard sit on uneven railroad ties.
For almost 2 1/2 hours, "Pie in the Sky" trots out one earnest lesson after another. The issues affect us all, bear thinking about and acting upon, but this messy production, with its lack of dramatic sensibility and the worst of the '60s "us against them" mentality, is annoyingly self-righteous and self-defeating.
Performances continue at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd in Topanga, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Sept. 19. Tickets $4-$12.50; (213) 455-3723.