Robert Reich Talks About His Play Public Exposure

You might think that when the former U.S. Secretary of Labor writes a play about politics, it’s going to be a heavy-handed diatribe against the Radical Right. Not so, according to Robert Reich, whose play “Public Exposure” opened the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater’s 2005 season.

“This is pure fun,” he assures from his office at University of California. – Berkeley, adding “I was going to say good wholesome fun, but no, pure unwholesome fun.”

The play, which will be directed by Gip Hoppe, is about a right-wing television anchor who is persuaded by an unscrupulous plastic surgeon and a savvy journalist to run for president. The only problem is, the anchor can’t seem to keep his pants on. Sound familiar? Certainly several real life characters come to mind here, but Reich is firm in saying any similarities are “purely coincidence.”

This isn’t Reich’s first dalliance with the theater, having written his first play in 1968 and directed several directions during his youth. “I took a playwriting course in the late 60s and when I was in grad school, I directed a number of productions at Oxford..and (my wife) Claire and I have appeared in ‘Love Letters’ on a number of occasions.”

It is his first professional play, though. And although Reich is a prolific writer, having written a dozen nonfiction books, he admits the process for writing “Public Exposure” was a far cry from works like “Reason : Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America” and “The Work of Nations : Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism.”

“It’s not exactly what I normally write,” he confesses. “This last play just bubbled up. I had nothing to do with it. The characters just came out and did what they had to do. I had nothing to do with it. I was an innocent bystander.”

While he says the process was fairly mysterious, with the characters, their dialogue and actions coming to him rather quickly, this was a piece he felt strongly about, “I knew I had to write it and I began to know the characters and they whisked me away.”

But make no mistake, Reich brushes off any notion that the play will change the world or even change anyone’s mind about the state of politics in America today.

“It wouldn’t be me if it didn’t express what strikes me as humorous,” he explains, “but I’m not intending to change anybody’s mind. Humor is the universal solvent. It’s important occasionally for us to be able to laugh, even though what’s going on (in reality) is not always very funny.”

It’s this need for laughter and a sense of humor that is the driving force behind the production. Reich did a reading of the piece several months ago in Eastham, and found the process very helpful to tweaking the play. Asked why premiere it at WHAT, Reich gushes with admiration for the theater company.

“I’ve been enormously impressed for years with what the Wellfleet theater has done. They do cutting edge work. They have a great playhouse, wonderful directors, a good group of actors. WHAT Is a wonderful organization. I have enormous confidence in (artistic director) Jeff Zinn.”

The goal for this play is for the audience to get “a great big yuck” out of it. No more, no less.

“Comedy is different from any other medium…It stands or falls on the basis of whether the audience finds it humorous. And you can test that very easily. Do they laugh or not?”

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