Chicago Theater Review: DANNY CASOLARO DIED FOR YOU (TimeLine Theatre Company)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 2, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

A WHISTLEBLOWER’S CONVENIENT SUICIDE

Urgent, cinematic, and breathlessly intense in everything but its intermission, TimeLine Theatre Company’s true-life exposé of a truth-teller and his martyrdom delivers a heavy dose of thinking theater. Its rather un-ironic title accuses the audience as much as the authorities. Soon to become a feature film, Danny Casolaro Died for You unsubtly imposes an “attention must be paid” obligation on its viewers as much as the theater: We must make sense of what inept police in West Virginia in August 1991 preferred to call a suicide.

Kyle Hatley, Demetrios Troy, and Jamie Vann in TimeLine's DANNY CASOLARO DIED FOR YOU. Photo by Lara Goetsch.

According to author Dominic Orlando, cousin to Casolaro, this dubious death was the ultimate cover-up—six feet under. The playwright names no murderers—but in his theatrical, non-legal accusations, he prosecutes the NSA, CIA, the Department of Justice, and associated shadow organizations as actors or accessories, witting or not, in the early death of a freelance investigator.

Kyle Hatley and Philip Earl Johnson in TimeLine's DANNY CASOLARO DIED FOR YOU. Photo by Lara Goetsch.

As “now it can be told” theater, TimeLine’s Chicago premiere, the second coming of this angry work, works equally well as an exercise in conspiracy-theory paranoia, journalistic sleuthing at its most dangerous, and a cumulative plea for transparency in foreign policy, banking, and law enforcement (Edward Snowden anyone?). As it unspools its Matrix-like plots and counterplots, this murky, multi-layered 135-minute semi-thriller, under Nick Bowling’s driving staging, creates its own very daunting maze. This labyrinth requires a flow chart to follow the money and the clandestine creatures who thrive in the dark and live in secret and for secrets. Indeed, it seems at times as if there just aren’t enough bread crumbs to get you through this forest. “Oh what a tangled web we weave / When once we practice to deceive.”

Kyle Hatley and Mark Richard in TimeLine's DANNY CASOLARO DIED FOR YOU. Photo by Lara Goetsch.

Suffice it to say that the action is framed by an FBI visit to Thomas Vaccaro (Demetrios Troy). Under interrogation, this professor—supposedly a different cousin to the author and the victim—recalls the flashbacks that become the back story to a supposed suicide. (Significantly, it was not considered a suicide by both objective evaluators and the House Judiciary Committee. But in 1994 Janet Reno insulated the Department of Justice from any wrongdoing or complicity in Danny Casolaro’s death. End of story—until 20 years later and this cri de coeur and conscience.)

Kyle Hatley and Demetrios Troy in TimeLine's DANNY CASOLARO DIED FOR YOU - photo by Lara Goetsch.

Orlando’s elaborate (and often speculative) exposition of this bubbling quagmire works back from the anti-hero’s death in a Martinsburg, West Virginia motel room, his arms slashed more than a dozen times in an apparent self-murder, to his fatal curiosity in 1990 over a software (PROMIS) manufacturer who accused the Justice Department of stealing his invention.

Jamie Vann, Philip Earl Johnson, Kyle Hatley, Mark Richard, Demetrios Troy and Dennis William Grimes in TimeLine's DANNY CASOLARO DIED FOR YOU. Photo by Lara Goetsch.

This in turn leads to the gradual exposure of a devious alliance of Mafiosi, Native American casinos, Time-Warner editors, the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI – what TIME called “the world’s sleaziest bank”), chemical weapons in the California desert, cocaine cartels, arms dealers, the Inslaw software profiteers, and government operatives—including an insidious private and for-profit cabal within the CIA.

Dennis William Grimes and Demetrios Troy in TimeLine's DANNY CASOLARO DIED FOR YOU. Photo by Lara Goetsch.

As with the very similar Iran-Contra scandal (the Nicaragua “arms for drugs” gambit), their goal is to circumvent the law, much like the “October surprise” that helped to elect Ronald Reagan (a dirty deal made with Iranians to only release the hostages after the inauguration). In this world a good scoop means an early death. Or, as Danny told his brother, “If anything happens to me, don’t believe it’s an accident.”

Dennis William Grimes, Demetrios Troy and Jamie Vann in TimeLine's DANNY CASOLARO DIED FOR YOU. Photo by Lara Goetsch.

Sinking as much as swimming in the quicksand of this over-plotted nightmare, Kyle Hatley’s embattled, handsome, blonde-haired Danny Casolaro is an intrepid adventurer (he wrote a novel about lost Inca gold). Now facing actual danger, chronically curious Danny bounces from one treacherous agent to another. Cut from Kyle Hatley in TimeLine's DANNY CASOLARO DIED FOR YOU. Photo by Lara Goetsch.the same conspiratorial and caricaturing Kafkaesque cloth (and so unworthy of specific attributions), these needles in a very heavy haystack are entertainingly played by Mark Richard, Philip Earl Johnson, Dennis William Grimes, and Jamie Vann. Each of these dozen-plus schemers or victims has a ready-made motive, edifying strategy or demise, secrets to hide, lies to peddle—and/or all of the above.

It’s easy to get lost in this torrent of unprocessed revelations and barrages of name-dropping—an unpeelable onion with a hundred layers or a rabbit hole with no bottom. What nails it in the final scene is Troy’s impassioned, Zola-like accusation against the still-unpunished felons who killed his cousin (among others). As always, the TimeLine lobby has been transformed into a stunning “octopus,” displaying the major players in this modern morality play and the copious program is a minefield of eye-opening disclosures.

Kyle Hatley and Demetrios Troy in TimeLine's DANNY CASOLARO DIED FOR YOU. Photo by Lara Goetsch.photos by Lara Goetsch

Danny Casolaro Died For You
TimeLine Theatre Company
Wellington Church, 615 W. Wellington Ave.
Wed and Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8;
Sat at 4 & 8; Sun at 2
(Thurs 11/27 no performance; Fri 11/28 at 4)
scheduled to end on December 21, 2014
for tickets, call (773) 281-8463
or visit www.timelinetheatre.com

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Margie Bernard October 27, 2014 at 4:54 am

This looks like a powerful play and delighted it is being staged. For more information about this topic see the major exposé by the FOIA release-seeking National Security Archive publication: The Chronology: The Documented Day-by-Day Account of the Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Contras. I was one of its minor editors but its main editor, Malcolm Byrne, has just released another book about this topic: Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power. For more information about this and other document sets of the NSA, go to: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/

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