Steven Rattazzi, Steven Hauck, and Chad Hoeppner
in Spy Garbo
(© Jim Baldassare)
Steven Rattazzi, Steven Hauck, and Chad Hoeppner
in Spy Garbo
(© Jim Baldassare)
Three notorious 20th-century political figures wait anxiously for a close-up that may never come in Spy Garbo, Sheila Schwartz's meticulously researched and exhausting multimedia talkfest at 3LD Art & Technology Center. Despite sharp performances and stunning video design, this perceptive biographical fantasia gets lost in its own excess.

Schwartz transports her characters to a limbo where historical fact vies with propaganda and Hollywood idolatry. Snubbed by history, Spanish fascist Francisco Franco (Steven Rattazzi), Nazi double agent Wilhelm Canaris (Steven Hauck), and British communist spy Kim Philby (Chad Hoeppner) long for the recognition they feel they deserve. They also hope that the arrival of Spy Garbo -- a clever Spanish double agent who's had dealings with them all -- will make things right.

They're in for a long wait, and during those 80 minutes they recap their dubious resumes, embellishing, erasing, and distorting to present themselves as ultimate heroes instead of historical footnotes. A ruthless general, Franco came to power during the Spanish Civil War and was Spain's dictator for nearly 40 years. Canaris, who helped to bring down Mata Hari, was hanged for treason for spying against the Nazis. And Philby, a British Intelligence agent during the Cold War, defected to the Soviet Union after it was learned he'd been spying for the Communist government.

Kevin Cunningham's crisp direction coaxes colorful performances from his cast (although Hauck's Canaris often sounds more English than German). Hoeppner is a charmingly suave Philby, while Rattazzi plays Franco as a hot-blooded blusterer. Their efforts, however, aren't always enough to prevent the production from turning into an information dump that creates little onstage tension and doesn't leave much breathing room for Schwartz's characters.

What does flow freely is the striking video design by Aaron Harrow, Jeff Morey and Peter Norrman, which surrounds the audience on three sides and melds together vast image arrays, including newsreel footage, movie clips and stunning holographic video projections of a couple of the women in their lives. Such multimedia extravagance should lend the proceedings a stronger sense of fun than they ultimately achieve.