Choose your favorite maxim:

The world is going to hell in a hand basket.

The ends justify the means.

There are no accidents, everything that happens is part of a conspiracy.

Playwright/director Charlie Mount explores all these themes in his new play, “The Leather Apron Club,” which opened this week at Theatre West. But first, a little historical background.

In 1727 Benjamin Franklin gathered together a group of intellectuals who met weekly to raise questions about a variety of subjects, to discuss ways to help their community, and to recognize its outstanding citizens. The group, mostly artisans and tradesmen, called itself “The Leather Apron Club” to signify their workingman status. The group thrived for decades and in 1743 evolved into the American Philosophical Society, which continues to promote scholarly research in science and the humanities to this very day.

And so, to the play. It is two months after 9/11 and four men are meeting in

Virginia with their leader, Grace Keebler (Ashley Taylor), a State Department functionary and former foreign policy advisor to a prominent Senator. The men are Col. Gil Hart (Yancey Dunham), a blustering hawk who works in the Pentagon on a project so secret that nobody knows about it; Dr. Edward Reed (Don Moss), an 80-year old philanthropist who had worked to cure various diseases and now wants to build an International Village on Antarctica;  Elliot Blake (Alan Schack), a media and propaganda expert and current director of the Research Committee for the GOP; and Kent Garfield (Roger Kent Cruz), former head of NASA and now head of the first corporate space program at Hughes Aerospace Division.

They have gathered for the purpose of recruiting James Avery (Adam Conger) to the Club.  Avery, a protégé of Dr. Reed, is a former magazine editor and journalist at Fox and CNN, and is now a VP at Reed’s Foundation, putting together a medical media empire.

Also peripherally involved are Artie Stein (Anthony Battelle), a bombastic TV talk show host (think Glenn Beck), and Emily Green (Karen Ragan-George), an influential Senator and vehement Evangelical.

In their opening conversations they discuss their common goals and the accumulated power they have to make things happen.  They lament that they knew about the upcoming 9/11 attacks in August.  “We saw this coming! We didn’t have the will to do anything about it! We didn’t have

the country behind us!” Gil says. Then, to Kent he says, “You got the missile?” and Kent replies, “It’s ready. All global telemetry will show it originated from Saudi Arabia.”

Later, when the unsuspecting James arrives, Grace explains to him, “We’re a secret society.”  The first rule of a secret society, she says, is “to hide in plain sight” and “tell the world just enough about yourself to make it sound crazy.”

And that’s where Artie Stein comes in. As a well-know conspiracy theorist,

he tells his audience about the secret society that has run the government for more than 200 years.  But “what you don’t read about is that the Leather Apron Club…has engineered the course of American capitalism, legislation, imperialism, influence and wealth since the time of the Revolution,” he shouts. And, of course, no-one believes him.

As the evening continues, the Club members debate the concept of the separation of church and state, morality, and American Exceptionalism.

“All American history, wars, peace treaties, industry, has been guided,” Kent says. “Not controlled–guided, tweaked, set off in planned directions,” Gil adds. “Most people don’t realize it but they’ve been working for us their whole lives,” Edward concludes. And later, a mysterious voice on the phone advises James, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world.”

James retains his skepticism, up to a point, while the others argue, banter, and attempt to persuade him to join their Club. It is a heady, intellectual evening, for James as well as the audience, and one that may provoke a plethora of questions, thoughtful introspection, and a renewed consideration of the ways of the world from all who witness this haunting theatrical event.

“The Leather Apron Club” will continue Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2 through May 15th at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles. For tickets, call (323) 851-7977 or visit theatrewest.org.

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