Kenneth Lin's timely play, Warrior Class, explores issues we've been grappling with these many months: the significance of a politician's past transgressions and, more importantly, the question of whether that a candidate can change his or her ways.
The central character, Julius Weishan Lee, is a California assemblyman being groomed for national office after delivering an inspiring speech that sets the internet abuzz. Political party kingmaker Nathan Berkshire has Lee in his sights as a sure bet. The prospective star is young, handsome, Harvard Law Review smart, and, oh yes, Asian. But perhaps that's to his advantage in this age of political correctness; he's being touted as the "Republican Obama," on the scene.
But a secret from Lee's past arrives during the vetting process that threatens to upend the rosy expectations. Holly Eames, Lee's former college girlfriend of 20 years ago, is noncommittal at first, as if she's testing Berkshire, but she refuses to sign a paper attesting to Lee's good character.
Eames claims Lee stalked and frightened her and her family after the couple broke up, but it's her word against his. There is no proof because the college has expunged any records of her complaints and the police have nothing in their files. To add to Berkshire's quandary, Eames is asking for a favor he will not grant to make her go away.
Berkshire is a political operative who works both sides of a problem. He offers Eames a new beautiful home, a scholarship at a prestigious law school to finish her education, and a job with a law firm after she gets her degree. However, he will not agree to all of her demands. Berkshire has investigated all the angles and found that her "ask" brings more problems.
During the climax, it becomes clear that both Berkshire and Eames have secrets to hide and ambitions to feed.
Stephan Barkheimer portrays Berkshire as a worried man beneath the promises and bluster, but his telling tics and gestures undercut his assurance as he tries to control a carefully stacked scenario. Michael Tow as Lee is a churchgoing Christian with the endearing habit of shedding his shoes and socks to walk barefoot at home. Jessica Webb plays Eames as a wronged woman, but she talks tough, gradually disclosing some damning evidence. The suspense builds as the audience realizes that there are many sides to the truth about these characters, and no outcome can satisfy all of them. The trio works well as an ensemble, quivering with reactions to each new disclosure.
Lin has written a play about people of multiple identities who are not what they seem. This story, which is all too familiar in the landscape of political thrillers, frustratingly never resolves, even in the final, equivocal moment. Director Dawn M. Simmons keeps the temperature of the Lyric Stage production at a high boil. The story unravels on a set, designed by Jenna McFarland Lord, which transforms with a turn of the backdrop and a change of props from a seedy bar to Lee's kitchen at home.
Like the people in our political landscape where unpleasant surprises challenge our expectations of them, the characters in Warrior Class harbor unknown layers of wants and fears. The danger lies in the effect they can have on the course of our nation.
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