Written and directed by Christopher Samuel Carroll
Bare Witness Theatre Co.
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 5 February
Reviewed by Len Power 3 February 2022
Tracing the origins of many of today’s political and social ills back to the marketing machinations of the tobacco industry in the mid-1970s when they were fighting for survival provides the basis for ‘Smokescreen’, an intriguing, dramatic new play by Christopher Samuel Carroll.
Set in a shabby hotel meeting room near an airport somewhere in the American mid-west in 1977, two men in suits with briefcases have a meeting. One of them, a man working for an oil company, Glenn, played by Christopher Samuel Carroll, is a heavy smoker. The other, younger man, Bud, played by Damon Baudin, is an advertising man and a non-smoker.
Their discussion over the next ninety minutes or so without a break is intense and increasingly worrying. The young man clearly has a strong handle on the tactics necessary for the tobacco industry to circumvent increasing regulation of their business. His smugness and confidence quickly rattles the older man who is forced to re-consider many of the things, personally and professionally, that he has taken for granted over the years. The dominance of the situation by one man over the other soon changes.
Watching a discussion that took place over 45 years ago which has a sobering relevance to issues we are grappling with today, is an often uncomfortable experience. As director, Carroll keeps the focus on the words with minimal movement by the characters.
Both actors give fine performances. Christopher Samuel Carroll shows us a man at the beginning of the play that has never had to think about his values before. The change from his aggressive over-confidence to questioning his life, business practices and future is subtly and carefully done.
Damon Baudin has the burden of playing a rather dislikeable young man quietly delivering more and more unpalatable messages. It’s a marathon role with long and complex speeches which Baudin handles extremely well.
However, some of these long speeches seem to be trying to include as much research as possible and do not always ring true as dialogue from Bud. It is also puzzling that, when subjected to long speeches filled with ideas he does not agree with, Glenn doesn’t try to interject more.
Overall, this is a demanding, insightful and well-researched play on marketing manipulation across a wide range of industries that resonates with us to this day.
Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.