Eli (Ben Faigus, center), an L.A. screenwriter, pitches a show idea to Richard, a TV producer (Michael Kostroff, left), then changes his mind, much to the surprise of his agent, Dan (William Anthony Sebastian Rose II, right) in “The Whistleblower.”
Itamar Moses’ “The Whistleblower” begins deceptively, with a scene that feels straight out of an “Entourage”-slick Hollywood dramedy.
The playwright opens with a pitch meeting: A screenwriter and his agent are trying to sell a studio exec on a new show with the cleverly meta-theatrical title “The Whistleblower.” Directed by Jeremy Wechsler and anchored by a stellar ensemble at Theater Wit, the alternately crackling and cryptic drama has more to it than a self-referential sitcom.
At the heart of the piece is the pitch meeting’s writer, Eli (Ben Faigus), who astounds and alarms his agent Dan (William Anthony Sebastian Rose II) and studio exec Richard (Michael Kostroff) by abruptly walking away from a dream of an offer, along with every other professional obligation he has.
When: Through June 17
Run-time: 85 minutes, with no intermission
His priority, Eli insists with implacable calmness, is a quest for “truth,” a quest that is not markedly dissimilar from the plot of his show pitch. Finding this truth will involve going home to the San Francisco Bay area to revisit his past.
Wechsler’s mostly double- and triple-cast ensemble grounds the occasionally quirky script as various loved and former-loved ones react to Eli’s uninvited demands for reckonings.
The episodic plot offers a rich series of encounters, starting as Dan and Rich grin, slap hands and talk contracts and story treatments for Eli’s next project. Sitting on a couch slightly apart from the pair, Faigus gradually, silently, masterfully shows Eli’s sudden, revelatory shifting moods: We see him suddenly appear to crumble, ultimately blurt-muttering that he’s changed his mind. He has to go home.
Eli (Ben Faigus) is a young screenwriter whose life changes when he decides to tell the people in his life the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, including his girlfriend, Allison (Julia Alvarez) in Theater Wit’s Midwest premiere of “The Whistleblower.”
After leaving his colleagues and his live-in girlfriend Allison (the formidably comic Julia Alvarez) stunned, outraged and concerned, Eli drives all night to get to his parents, Hannah (RjW Mays) and Joseph (Kostroff). Under questioning in one morbidly humorous scene, Eli looks on placidly as the parents vociferously argue about whether he’s manic.
The humor grows spikier yet when Eli visits his sister, Rebecca (Rae Gray) informing her that his commitment to truth comes with an ultimatum: Unless she does it first, he’s going to tell Hannah and Joe she’s a meth dealer with a violent partner.
Central to Eli’s journey is a reunion with Eleanor (Gray), the woman left without word or warning 13 years earlier and hasn’t bothered to contact since. Eleanor’s taking out the trash when she finds Eli waiting for her by the cans. He’s not disposed of so easily.
Eli also crosses paths with Max (a hilariously vacant/intermittently profound Andrew Jessop), an admittedly drug-damaged artist whose dubious epiphany — the best thing any artist can create is absolutely nothing — is a surreal, comic high point.
Traveling Eli’s trail of destructive enlightenment, the ensemble misses nary a beat. Faigus’ Eli is a cypher to the end, nuance wrapped around enigma.
As the agent Dan, Rose radiates that unmistakable blend of sincerity, swagger and charisma that makes doors open, scripts happen and integrity count. Double-cast as Eli’s childhood friend Jed, Rose finds the humor and the pathos of a man caught in the crosshairs between his friend and his formidably pregnant and justifiably outraged wife Lisa (Julia Alvarez, a scene-stealer who also plays Allison, the girlfriend left behind in L.A.)
Gray’s Eleanor is all-too believable. Her initial, wordless reaction to Eli’s appearance — a mixture of anger, fear and incredulity — reads like a wordless book. Eleanor has a graciousness that stands in stark contrast to the volatile Rebecca and Gray’s third character, a studio assistant with her own surprising evolution.
Kostroff’s Richard embodies a lot of the familiar cliches about Hollywood executives — smug, slightly smarmy, self-impressed — without creating a stereotype. As Eli’s father Joseph, he spins from grinning powermonger to erupting Vesuvius of grievances. His marital spars with Mays’ Hannah (blistering the stage in a white-hot rager of a monologue about the neediness of men) is as brutal as anything Edward Albee ever cooked up.
Brian Redfern’s set shifts effectively between locales via sliding walls that often look like abstract paintings, a structural hat-top to the ephemeral nature of art and its subtle ubiquity in our lives.
And Johan Gallardo’s costumes are on point, from Dan’s utterly splendid tangerine suit to Eleanor’s weary sweatpants.