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Richard Krawiec’s New Play “Creeds” Tells the Story of FBI Agent-Turned Soviet Spy Robert Hanssen

Lori Mahl (left) and Jessica Ann Heironimus star in PlayGround's world-premiere production of "Creeds" by Richard Krawiec, which runs March 22-April 1

Lori Mahl (left) and Jessica Ann Heironimus star in PlayGround's world-premiere production of "Creeds" by Richard Krawiec, which runs March 22-April 1

PlayGround, a Theatre Cooperative, will present the world premiere of Creeds, a ripped-from-the-headlines drama about FBI agent-turned-Soviet spy Robert Hanssen, on March 22-25 and March 29-April 1 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC. Written by Durham, NC playwright Richard Krawiec and directed by Raleigh actor and director Paul Paliyenko, Creeds stars Lori Mahl as the older Bonnie Hanssen, Jessica Ann Heironimus as the Younger Bonnie, Jeffrey Alguire as the older Bob Hanssen (in prison), Ryan Ladue as the younger Bob, Phillip Semanchuk as Jack, Christine Rogers as a Reporter/Bonnie’s Mother, Joanna Vickery Herath as a Gun Clerk/Prostitute, LeDawna Akins as Agent Kimberly, and Reid Dalton as Agent Gerry/Father Damien/Russian Ambassador.

“I just happened upon a brief story about Robert Hanssen in researching another topic,” recalls dramatist Richard Krawiec, “and as I read it, I became fascinated with his wife, Bonnie. The story didn’t add up. Having worked as an investigative reporter, things just didn’t jibe. So, I spent a lot of time researching articles, reading books — about six or so — watching movies.”

Krawiec adds, “I thought it would be fascinating to explore how these two arch-conservative Catholics ended up the way they did. I was working with some great actors at PlayGround and thought that would be the place to try out scenes. This was two years ago. We have workshopped scenes throughout that period; and as the play developed, I wrote parts with certain actors in mind — Lori [Mahl], Jeff [Alguire], Jessica [Hieronimus], LeDawna [Akins] — trying to develop roles that would both use their skills but also challenge them to expand their capacities, too….

“I revised [the script] primarily as a result of what I saw the actors do with my scenes, the questions they had, the possibilities that showed up when scenes were run in labs,” explains Richard Krawiec. “I did revise after we did scene readings last year, in response to audience and critic questions. I think I made the motivations both more clear and more complex for all the characters. Also, I wanted to make sure every single role in the play gave whoever acted that part something important to do. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time onstage with a throwaway role.”

In Creeds, Krawiec notes, “There are two Bobs and two Bonnies onstage at all times. Jeff [Alguire] and Lori [Mahl] play the post-arrest Hanssens. Jessica [Hieronimus] and Ryan [Ladue play] the younger Hanssens. When the play opens, Prisoner (Bob) has been in a Supermax prison, isolated 23 hours a day, for months, and is breaking down psychologically. Wife (Bonnie) is reflecting back on her life, trying to figure out not just what happened but if there is any way she can somehow go back and change the past.”

Krawiec says, “These two characters are actually moving backward in time. The younger Bob and Bonnie are moving forward, from their early marriage to Bob’s eventual arrest. The play follows their progression as a couple as Bob rises in the ranks of the FBI, becomes a double agent for the Russians, and Bonnie begins to assert her own individuality in ways that are surprising and personally destructive.”

Director Paul Paliyenko adds, “I too was fascinated by the story of these people. Having been raised a Roman Catholic, though no longer practicing, I have some understanding of the particular religion and its ‘complexities,’ as evidenced by recent political, financial, and sexual scandals in the Church. Those same themes and issues are interwoven in the play hence the title, which I suggested to Richard a while back….

“When we began the production in earnest,” Paliyenko recalls, “I had the cast and writer gather for a reading to hear it interpreted aloud. I even had the two Bobs and Bonnies exchange roles to hear another interpretation of those same characters they would be portraying. Some revisions were made based upon this first reading prior to the start of rehearsals. And as we have been rehearsing, we have made small cuts and refinements here and there to strengthen the scenes and sustain the forward momentum of the narrative.”

He adds, “There are two plot lines that overlap and intersect [in Creeds] — actually, I see them as occurring in parallel planes of existence. You see and hear two Bob Hanssens and two Bonnies, his wife, from the present and the past. Those in the present are struggling to come to terms with their lives and how they got there. Those in the past are on their inexorable personal paths of corruption and destruction. As is often said, behind every great man, there is a woman. That is the perspective of this story that I believe fascinated and compelled Richard [Krawiec] to write this play.

“We also encounter various people who figured significantly in their personal and professional development,” Paliyenko explains. “Those encounters provide a brief glimpse into what led then to make the choices they did in their lives and behave in a manner that was inconsistent with much of their moral and religious code of conduct. That is the inherent trap of any form of fundamentalism as we have witnessed across the globe in the past decade in particular and how it has permanently altered the American way of life. Those hypocrisies of religious, moral, and social-political creeds are fascinating to me and one of the reasons I left the Church.”

Paliyenko declares, “I also believe the play touches on the issue of the how the messages parents send to their children when they are young can foster permanent psychological and emotional damage that leads to so many forms of destructive sociopathic behavior in their adult lives. This is clearly evidenced in both Bob’s father’s behavior toward him as well as Bonnie’s mother’s behavior toward as portrayed in the play.”

He adds, “… [T]he major challenge of this script is that it is — to my eye — structured more like a screenplay than a stage play. I see this more and more in contemporary plays and the questionable influence of films on the craft. We have a number of scenes in which the action shifts to four or five different settings. While it can make for a very interesting sequence in a scene, it is a challenge in a space as small as Common Ground, but I believe we have effectively solved that challenge with our set and lighting design.

“The other interesting and fascinating challenge,” Paliyenko claims, “is to have two different actors portraying the same character and to try to find and/or create those points of intersection between the two as we see them at different points in their lives and where they ultimately intersect.”

In addition to playwright Richard Krawiec and director Paul Paliyenko, PlayGround’s production team for Creeds includes technical directors Paul Paliyenko and Jeffrey Alguire; set designer Paul Paliyenko; lighting designers Paul Paliyenko and Jeffrey Alguire; properties manager Jess Jones and Paul Paliyenko; and stage manager Amanda Watson Hahn. Creeds also features costumes designed by the cast, original music by Daniel Krawiec, and an original dance overture performed by guest artist Anya Russian before the Friday and Saturday night shows.

“Overall, notes director Paul Paliyenko, “the background set is composed of very symmetrical elements. The set pieces are all set on a 45 degree angle to an otherwise rectilinear grid.

“The set is arranged within a prescribed rectangle that reflects the ‘Golden Mean’ [of Aristole], and this particular geometry occurs elsewhere,” explains Paliyenko. “That rectangle is a pattern of vertical and horizontal bars painted in red on the floor that may be interpreted in a number of ways. Red is a symbolic color in our overall design scheme. It is a potent color with various meanings and interpretations across different cultures.

Paliyenko says, “The furniture is all draped in simple white cloth and serves as multiple locations or settings within the play. There is a central structure upstage with a scrim set in a wall opening through which specific shadow plays occur — some literal and some more symbolic in nature.”

He adds, “The lighting creates a darker, moodier atmosphere, with specific moments of brilliant light. All the lights are simple white light, except for a couple of key red lighting effects.”

Paliyenko says, “The costumes are generic and not period specific. They reflect the same color palette of black, white, gray, and red.”

Dramatist Richard Krawiec adds, “[Creeds] is a fast-moving drama, but with moments of dark humor. It explores how people can behave in ways that seem to contradict their deepest-held beliefs. Although adult in theme, there actually isn’t a cuss word in the production.”

He adds, “There are a lot of characters [in Creeds], and meshing as an ensemble is a challenge, made less so since many of the players worked on scenes in PlayGround. But everyone has an important scene, so establishing a flow is essential.

“Paul Paliyenko has done an excellent job guiding the actors to find not just moments of explosive drama, but moments of uncertainty, confusion, philosophical questioning, and poignance in their performances,” Krawiec says.

SECOND OPINION: 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”:

PlayGround, a Theatre Cooperative, presents CREEDS, a world premiere by Richard Krawiec, at 8 p.m. March 22-24, 2 p.m. March 25, 8 p.m. March 29-31, 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.





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: (Facebook).

The Playwright: (official website) and (Wikipedia).

Robert Hanssen: (Wikipedia).


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