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‘Rum and Coke,’ A New Play by Keith Reddin, Opens Off-Broadway

January 28, 1986 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Before Keith Reddin’s ″Rum and Coke″ begins, the stage is flooded with photographs from the late 1950s.

There are pictures of a Tupperware party, the Everly Brothers, Debbie and Eddie, a White Tower hamburger shop, college students overstuffing a Volkswagen, a bomb shelter and other cultural and sociological phenomena of what now seems like a much more innocent and naive time.

How this innocence is skewered is one of the themes that snakes through ″Rum and Coke,″ an outrageous and effective dark comedy which opened Monday at the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater. That innocence is personified by Jake Seward, a young, idealistic government employee who has caught the eye of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The organization admired the job he did in Venezuela where he worked as a as a disc jockey and helped topple the government by making fun of its president. Now the CIA is after bigger game - Fidel Castro - and Jake is recruited by Rodger, a clean-cut, ambitious Ivy Leaguer, to help in the operation to bring the Cuban leader down.

Jake spent part of his childhood in Cuba and has hazy, romantic notions about the country and the need to free it from Castro’s grasp. His sugar- coated view of the operation begins to melt when he hears some of the CIA’s schemes to eliminate the leader. Among the options: spraying a radio station with LSD before Castro arrives to make him babble on the air or putting another chemical in his shoes to make his hair fall out. They settle on an invasion of Cuba, carried out by Cubans, but with the tacit support of the American government.

Jake is sent to Guatemala to train radio operators who will land in Cuba before the actual invasion. The recruits spend their time watching movies and looking for women instead of training for the invasion.

Reddin includes several real people in the cast including Richard Nixon and Castro. Also involved are Jake’s sister Linda, a reporter for Time magazine, who is eventually co-opted by the Kennedy administration with the promise of a job working for Jackie. It’s left to Jake make a vain attempt to blow the whistle on the inept invasion plan.

Peter MacNicol is an appealing Jake with an eager smile that only gradually gives way to outrage. Frank Maraden makes an effective Nixon, conjuring up the former president just by changing his voice. John Bedford-Lloyd scores in three roles including a surprisingly strong impersonation of Castro. Michael Ayr, Robert Stanton and especially Larry Bryggman are terrific as the looney CIA operatives who conceive the disasterous plan.

The action has been staged artfully by Les Waters within the confines of a small playing area. Scenic designer John Arnone uses a curtain of Venetian blinds that open and close quickly for the nearly dozen scene changes.

Before the Bay of Pigs operation collapses, Rodger confides confidently to Jake that they both belong to ″a new generation of go-getters.″ The young man readily agrees. In ″Rum and Coke,″ Reddin has done a fire-rate job in demonstrating the disasterous and morally uncomfortable consequences of that ambition.