If you saw Mickle Maher’s “The Strangerer” a decade ago then you certainly must see that play’s (loose) sequel, “Jim Lehrer and the Theater and Its Double and Jim Lehrer’s Double.” But even if you didn’t see “The Strangerer”—this critic, for instance, has only read the script—that is still no excuse for you to miss out on this odd, hilarious and ominous tumble down the rabbit hole.
A brief recap before we continue: “The Strangerer” took place during the first of the 2004 presidential debates in Coral Gables, Florida. Inspired by the famous novel by Albert Camus, the candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry debate exactly how and when the two of them would murder the debate’s moderator, PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer.
This new play borrows its basic plot structure from the dread-soaked horror of Edgar Allan Poe. It begins with a now-retired Lehrer, played by Colm O’Reilly, sitting in the room of his suburban townhouse, trying to fill out a poll for the local village election, talking to himself as though it were a newscast (O’Reilly’s impersonation is impeccable). Once Lehrer leaves in search of a snack, another Jim Lehrer, this one played by Brian Shaw (both O’Reilly and Shaw played Lehrer during “The Strangerer”’s initial run), enters the sitting room, his clothes torn and bloody. He is returning from the premiere of a play that he wrote—a premiere that ended with the audience chasing him from the theater and attempting to murder him. Former theater majors will recognize that the title is a goof on “The Theatre and its Double” by Antonin Artaud.
Like “The Strangerer,” one of Maher’s concerns here is the nature of theatrical artifice and its relation to reality. Without the war in Iraq as a worthy target, “Jim Lehrer” can sometimes get too insular and esoteric. It isn’t until its final moments that the play turns its gaze back outward toward the nation’s present political calamity and reminds us that even our darkest reflections cast shadows—ones that are even darker still. (Alex Huntsberger)
Theater Oobleck at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 West Division, theateroobleck.com, $15. Through February 19.