“Daisy” by Sean Devine, a World Premiere at ACT Theatre

Pertinent! Oh my yes, coming as it does in this particular election season. ACT couldn’t have known when it selected this work over a year ago just how pertinent it would be. It is an in-depth look at the making of the unforgettable TV ad created for the 1964 election in which President Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater.

 

You know the ad. It’s the one where a little girl counts daisy petals. It ends with a nuclear countdown and massive explosion. No candidate’s names are uttered, but the message is clear. One candidate is an unguided missile, can’t be trusted not to usher in Armageddon. The other candidate is stable.

 

Most of the action takes place in the New York offices of the ad agency that created the piece, The dialog presents a realistic picture of just what goes on in those offices where the Don Drapers and creative types determine public opinion, tastes, and buying habits. It shows the initial floundering, the searching for a hook, the rancor and antagonisms that inevitably arise, the ego battles, the hard work and long hours, and the sense of triumph when a project is completed.

 

Director John Langs’ fine cast and production crew achieve good results here. Shawn Ketchum Johnson set design works well, but the outstanding element is the video backdrop designed by Tristan Roberson It consists of over 80 TVs of different sizes set in cabinet fronts from the 1960s. The effect as they play election bits and the infamous ad is overwhelming.

 

The cast gives solid performances, capturing the frustrations, excitement, and tensions inherent in their work. For me, however, there are a couple of problematic issues. I hate hearing bad New York accents, and I heard them here.

 

Kirsten Potter as the sole female ad executive gave a powerful performance but one that puzzled me. This woman is ambitious, hard working, and an idealist. Yet during the course of the play she takes credit for work that wasn’t hers. It seemed out of character. If the playwright wanted to make the point that anything goes in the ad industry, it didn’t work. I can’t tell you if the problem is the actor’s, the director’s or the playwright’s, but it is a problem.

 

So, not a perfect production but one that is amazingly topical.

 

Through August 7 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

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