PlayGround’s current world premiere of Durham, NC dramatist and writer Richard Krawiec’s psychological drama, Creeds, now playing at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, puts the double life of Federal Bureau of Investigation agent-turned-Soviet and later Russian spy Robert Philip Hanssen under a microscope, but doesn’t reveal nearly enough about his motives or answer the question of whether his wife, Bernadette “Bonnie” Wauck Hanssen, was a co-conspirator in — or an innocent victim of — his treasonous endeavors.
Hanssen, now 67, is a paradox. A devout Catholic and member of the ultra-conservative Opus Dei sect, he is the son of a Chicago police officer, who made his childhood a Living Hell.
Bob Hanssen was an internal affairs investigator/forensic accountant for the Chicago Police Department before joining the FBI as a special agent in January 1976. While working for the FBI’s counterintelligence unit, Hanssen went rogue — for the money, he says — and spied from 1979 to 1981 and from 1985 to 1991 for the old Soviet Union and from 1992 to 2001 for the new Russian Federation. The U.S. Department of Justice characterized Hanssen’s espionage activities as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history.”
Bob Hanssen’s motivations to betray his country are less important to playwright Richard Krawiec than whether Hanssen’s wife and mother of their six children, Bonnie, now 66, knew that her husband was handing over U.S. secrets to the Soviets and the Russians, because in 1981 Bonnie Hanssen caught Bob in their basement writing a letter to Soviet military intelligence. Bob confessed to Bonnie that he had been selling secrets — which he claimed were false intelligence — to the U.S.S.R., and he did not resume spying for the Soviets until 1985.
To explore the paradox of Bob Hanssen, a religious conservative and family man who betrayed his country and wanted to watch his wife have sex with other men, Creeds unfolds in a series of scenes that contrast Bob and Bonnie Now (played by Jeffrey Aguire and Lori Mahl), with Bob pacing his federal Supermax prison cell and Bonnie doing her best Sgt. Schultz (“I-know-nothing”) imitation, with Bob and Bonnie Then (portrayed by Ryan Ladue and Jessica Ann Heironimus). Young Bob was a real pistol, and Krawiec hints that narcissism — and frustration over the glacial pace of his career advancement in the FBI — drove him to prove how much smarter he was than his sometimes condescending Bureau superiors (LeDawna Akins as Agent Kimberly and Reid Dalton as Agent Gerry), while on the home front he was sharing clandestinely snapped photographs of himself and Bonnie having sex his former high school buddy and best friend Jack Hoschouer (Phillip Semanchuk) and trying to persuade Jack to have sex with Bonnie.
Was Bonnie agreeable to having sex with Jack? Did she know that Bob was a Soviet mole whose revelations were responsible for a number of deaths of Soviets spying for the U.S.? Creeds cannot answer those questions, and only Bonnie knows for sure. But she and the Hanssens’ six children have shared the survivor’s portion of his pension, $38,000 per year since Bob pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage in July 2001 and was sentenced to life in prison, without parole.
Jeff Alguire plays Bob Hanssen Now, babbling as he paces his tiny Supermax prison cell, as a man with snakes in his boots; whereas Lori Mahl’s impersonation of Bonnie Hanssen Now is both more complex, and less revealing. Was Bonnie open to experimenting with the Swinging lifestyle? Was she Bob’s accomplice in the dangerous spy-vs.-spy game that he played, on and off, from 1979 until his arrest in January 2001? Lori Mahl never gives the audience members the hints that they need to solve this puzzle.
Meanwhile, Ryan Ladue as the younger Bob is a nasty character with a perpetual scowl; and Jessica Ann Heironimus makes the Younger Bonnie fully three-dimensional, but plays her as a clueless victim of her husband’s sexual machinations and as ignorant of her husband’s pimping her to his best friend Jack as she is unaware that he is selling their country’s secrets to its chief Cold War enemy and its principal successor after the Iron Curtain collapsed.
Phillip Semanchuk is stiff and gray as Jack, but Joanna Vickery Herath brings a lively touch and lots of color to her dual roles as a Gun-Store Clerk and, later, as a Prostitute whom Bob Hanssen takes along on some of his travels.
Christine Rogers doubles as a persistent Reporter, playing the Gotcha Game with the surprisingly media-savvy Bonnie, and as Bonnie’s Mother; LeDawna Akins adds a crisp cameo as the prickly Agent Kimberly; and Reid Dalton does yoeman’s work as Agent Gerry, the Hanssens’ priest and confessor Father Damien, and a Russian Ambassador whom Bob Hanssen approaches with an offer to sell U.S. secrets.
Playwright Richard Krawiec and director Paul Paliyenko still have a lot of rough spots to smooth out in Krawiec’s script to provide more satisfying answers to the audience about what made — and makes — Bob and Bonnie Hanssen tick, then and now. Indeed, the role of Bob Hanssen Now, in which the convicted spy mainly paces his cells, babbling, needs to be rewritten to probe deeper into Bob’s psyche and his motivations to violate the trust of his wife, his employer, and his fellow Americans.
Bonnie Hanssen Now also needs an extreme makeover, because there are only so many ways to say, “I didn’t know,” “I never guessed,” etc.; and the roles of the other characters with whom the Hanssens interact need to be fleshed out and given more distinctive personalities.
Director Paul Paliyenko, who serves as set designer for Creeds and the show’s co-lighting designer, with Jeff Alguire, clearly delineates the plays Then and Now segments, and cleverly stages the play’s sexual encounters with shadowy figures behind a lurid red gel. But Creeds ultimately fails to unearth any juicy new secrets about Bob and Bonnie Hanssen and their world that would explain Why this ostensibly square, buttoned-down Midwestern couple behaved the way that they did.
SECOND OPINION: March 28th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/exploring-identity-crises-in-krawiecs-creeds/Content?oid=2945429; and March 22nd Chapel Hill, NC WUNC 91.5 FM interview with Paul Paliyenko, Jeff Alguire, Jessica Hieronimus, and Christine Rogers, conducted by Alex Granados and Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/creeds/view. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the March 22nd Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/03/richard-krawiecs-new-play-creeds-tells-the-story-of-fbi-agent-turned-soviet-spy-robert-hanssen/.)
PlayGround, a Theatre Cooperative, presents CREEDS, a world premiere by Richard Krawiec, at 8 p.m. March 30 and 31 and 2 p.m. April 1 at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina 27705.
TICKETS: $10 Thursday and Sunday and $15 Friday and Saturday.
BOX OFFICE: email@example.com or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/224259.
NOTE: For $40, Triangle theatergoers can buy a ticket to any performance to Creeds and later join the cast party and enjoy a fine Mediterranean meal at 3:45 p.m. on Sunday, April 1st, at Meelo’s Restaurant, 1821 Hillandale Rd., Suite 3, Durham, NC 27705.
The Play: https://www.facebook.com/events/291860340881077/ (Facebook).
The Playwright: http://rkeditor.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Krawiec (Wikipedia).
Robert Hanssen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Hanssen (Wikipedia).
Robert Hanssen Timeline: http://www.cbs.com/specials/master_spy/timeline/ (CBS).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.