The Reagan Years, The Workhaus Collective performing at The Playwrights Center

Jessie Scarborough-Ghent and Company in The Reagan Years. Photo by Alan Berks.

Jessie Scarborough-Ghent and Company in The Reagan Years. Photo by Leah Cooper.

Do you, like me, remember the 1980s as a heady combination of amnestic hedonism and unapologetic avarice and acquisitiveness? If so, I bet you’ll enjoy Dominic Orlando‘s zippily paced The Reagan Years, a celebration (if that’s an appropriate word) of alcoholic rapacity, 80s-style. The opening image, of the bottle and beercan strewn Long Island living room in front of a psychedelic American flag, sets the tone. You can almost smell the testosterone.

“Greed is good,” Michael Douglas intoned in 1987 and the denizens of The Reagan Years would likely agree – if they could ever get themselves sober. Rich boy Guy Boyd is not a playboy; playboys have more fun than he does. But Boyd has nonetheless acquired an entourage, a gang of fellow students sharing his estate (one of several houses owned by Boyd’s doting Daddy). The real world beckons and the lads are trying to rise above the pot-smoke and vodka fumes and face an unfeeling Future. One feels hope only for Moth, creator of the flag (Michael Hanna provides an oddly compelling reading of this role). The others, well, who knows. Even in the 80s one had to stand without weaving.

Into this insanity comes Dawn (Jessie Scarborough-Ghent, a lovely turn). Dawn is sweet-natured and savvy – but not savvy enough. Attracted by, what, by Guy’s money? His charisma? Whatever it is, Dawn agrees to have sex with him, at which point Guy…

I’m not going to spoil the story. Know that the air in The Reagan Years bristles with tension. The Long Island stars shine down on a nest of pure howling madness.

As I watched The Reagan Years, I found myself thinking of a wide variety of not dissimilar titles: The Petrified Forest, American Psycho, When You Coming Back, Red Ryder?, and many many direct-to-DVD movies. But who cares if this play is a touch derivative? Orlando writes with focus and crazed energy. And, more to the point, the 80s is unmined (for me, anyway) dramatic territory, a breach into which Orlando has effectively leapt.

The Reagan Years often frustrates. I didn’t understand the backstory (the details of which I am going to leave out). Why not? Did I zone it out? This is possible. But it left me at sea for much of the first act. I didn’t understand why the character of Frisbee (Paul LaNave) was played so over-the-top (why could he so rarely stand up straight?). I didn’t get why the lads were so enamored of Guy (Bryan Porter). Couldn’t they, like me, scent his frightening brutality?

Ah, but so what. I had a good time at The Reagan Years and I bet you will, too. Plays in this this venue (The Playwrights Center) have a rough-hewn vitality. Orlando (who directs as well as writes) and his designers have staged this one beautifully.

The Reagan Years: Workhaus performing at The Playwrights Center, through May 2.

John Olive is a playwright, a screenwriter and a fictionist living in Minneapolis. His book Tell Me A Story In The Dark has recently been published by Familius, Inc. For more info please visit



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