It’s a news story that, in Idaho, has become a legend. A conservative senator arrested for soliciting sex with another man in an airport bathroom. In video from C-SPAN from 2007 Idaho Senator Larry Craig apologizes just after the story broke.
“While I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct at the Minneapolis airport or anywhere else, I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in hopes of making it go away," he said. "That was a mistake and I deeply regret it.”
Craig’s arrest is the inspiration for a new play that opened at Boise Contemporary Theater Wednesday. But Dwayne Blackaller, who directs Off the Record, says it’s not the story of what happened to Larry Craig.
"We’ll recognize the circumstances and we’ll recognize the situation from headlines but it’s pretty clear the moment I think the lights come up that this is not the story you think it is.” Blackaller says.
Actor Steven Bradbury rehearses on the set of Off the Record. He plays the Senator. He’s being interrogated by the police officer who just arrested him. The play takes place in a bare holding cell, sheet rock walls and a metal table with a tape recorder
Lynn Allison listens to Bradbury rehearse. She wrote Off the Record and this is her debut as a playwright. For the play Allison took two people- the Senator and police officer- and put them in a room. “I said well, let’s just put the two in there, close the door and see what evolves.”
Allison emphasizes that what evolves is fiction. It’s the push and pull between these two characters once they turn off the tape recorder, the things the public will never hear. But the starting place is a story that everyone knows. Blackaller says Idahoans feel a sense of ownership of this story.
“It is uniquely local,” he notes. “It does mean a lot to us as Idahoans. There are plenty of plays that come from New York City and we produce a lot of them. But when you have an opportunity to tell a story that is local, I think it’s a great opportunity, because it’s all about not just what we individually believe, but how we as a community believe.”
But Allison says telling a story that everyone thinks they know can be difficult.
“I think some people may have kind of a sense of…I read those headlines and I know how this story is supposed work and this is not how it worked. And those people who need to kind of grip and hang on to their version may leave dissatisfied,” she says.
Blackaller says what they want is for audiences to go away having their expectations challenged.
“No matter what you believe or what you think about that situation that’s sort of the impetus for this whole play, it’ll challenge you. And that’s a good thing that theater always has done is challenge people.”
Blackaller says that challenge comes from what he calls the primary question beating at the heart of this play.
“Who are you and who do you pretend to be.”
But challenging expectations with a local story may have its limitations. Actor Steven Bradbury came in from New York to play the Senator. He’s the only non Idahoan in the room.
“The question that comes into my mind is how readily transportable is this?” he asks. “Would this go Off Broadway, you know, or in a small theater in Los Angeles? And I really don’t have a perspective on that.”
Blackaller says this play definitely has legs beyond Idaho. He thinks the story is compelling enough that once it begins you’ll stop thinking about what really happened to Senator Larry Craig five years ago and only care about what happens next on the stage.