Rogelio Martinez’s Blind Date, directed by Robert Falls, is currently in production at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, through February 25th, 2018. The play is a backstage look at one of the 20th century’s most noteworthy events, The Geneva Summit of 1985. Held on November 19th and 20th, 1985, at Maison de Saussure, a chateau owned by the Aga Kahn, it was the first face-to-face encounter between U.S. President Ronald Reagan, “The Great Communicator”, and then Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, the 8th and last leader of the Soviet Union, a man who is still alive today at 87. The purpose of their meeting was to hold talks on international diplomatic relations and the arms race.
The play boasts a great cast; it stars Rob Riley as a congenial and confident if slightly addled Reagan; William Dick as the suspicious and worried Gorbachev; Jim Ortlieb as straightforward U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz who brokers the deal with Eduard Shevardnadze, Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, played with shrewd assurance by Steve Pickering; and Deanna Dunagan and Mary Beth Fisher as startlingly spot-on versions of behind the scenes supporting wives Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev, who cordially loathed each other. The production also features Thomas J. Cox as Reagan’s befuddled biographer, Edmund Morris, who mocks the President’s speech patterns and their alleged largely movieland sources; and Torrey Hansen, Michael Milligan and Gregory Linington as Caspar Weinberger, Larry Speakes, Vyacheslav Zaitsev, et. al.
Blind Date is based on a large number of solid facts interlaced with fanciful versions of interpersonal meetings coupled with informative narrative “asides”, all conducted on a really intriguing huge silver cylinder of a set- think enormous open revolving space capsule – crafted by Riccardo Hernandez. In recreating the negotiations that led up to the largely successful series of summits between world leaders that arguably resulted in the ending of the Cold War and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, we are also treated to mostly gentle character assassination of the President and First Lady.
Both the Soviet Union and the United States wanted to reduce their arsenal of nuclear weapons; additionally, the U.S. wanted to retain defensive systems and wanted to guarantee that neither side achieved a first-strike advantage.
Gorbachev commented later: “We viewed the Geneva meeting realistically, without grand expectations, yet we hoped to lay the foundations for a serious dialogue in the future.” Reagan believed their aims could only be accomplished by creating a personal relationship first; he wanted to convince the Russian leader of America’s overriding desire for peace. Meanwhile, the two wives had tea; the best scene in Blind Date was the “Tea Summit”, during which the women literally and figuratively jockied for position.
While one can never get to understand the personalities of any group of historical figures in 150 minutes, it’s also true that these fine actors are never really given a chance to develop much more than benign caricatures of the various personae brought together in a mini-simulacrum of a world stage. The hairdos, Gorbachev’s famous strawberry birthmark, the wry resolve of Raisa, Nancy’s steely belief in her husband are all present, but no true insights are inserted into our understanding of who these people were. Indeed, that is one of the major points of the play; the question is repeatedly asked, “Who are you, Ronald Reagan?” The question is never answered. Similarly, we are not given any believable revelations about what actually went on behind the closed doors of the summit.
In short, this is an entertaining, well-written, well-acted and mostly fond look back at an extremely significant historical meeting that, however, does not deliver any new or enlightening political or personal perspectives.
Kudos to the production team for Blind Date , which includes Amy Clark, costume design; Aaron Spivey, lighting design; and Richard Woodbury, original music and sound design.
For information and tickets to all the fine productions of the Goodman Theatre, go to www.goodmantheatre.org
All photos by Liz Lauren