SHOW: Alias Ellis MacKenzie

GENRE: Theater

GROUP: Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental

ATTENDED: Sept. 12, 2:00 p.m., Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut St.

CLOSES: Sept. 19

BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: Go back to the 1980s with the infamous American drug runner Barry Seal, the Colombian drug lords, the CIA agents, and the fixers.

WE THINK:  Thaddeus Phillips’ personal experiences playing drug runner, informant, and Iran-Contra Affair player Barry Seal on a MundoFox TV show become this play about actors and crew producing the TV show – and about Seal’s “potentially real” adventures.

Early on, the behind-the-scenes activity is fun and revealing: an American actor working in Spanish (scene introductions in screenplay form, and sometimes complete scenes in translation, help those in the audience who don’t speak Spanish), lots of frantic set-up and yelling “action” and “cut.” Eventually, it gives way to Seal’s story.

Jeff Becker’s set is a hybrid of theater and film: sometimes a partial set shows how films need little so long as what’s in the shot looks real, other times – flat paintings of planes, cockpits with folding chairs, partial cars – film standards completely give way to theater practices. It’s an awkward mix.

Seal’s story fascinates, and Phillips makes him a colorful, larger-than-life figure whose relentless optimism (he can “fly anything, anytime, anywhere”) and phone calls to his kids humanize the amoral guy smuggling drugs and double-crossing the murderous drug lords. Phillips’ American and Columbian ensemble play multiple roles very well.

What could be a great play or movie, though, becomes a cumbersome display of scene changes. When the action stops for a Cadillac’s skeletal remains to roll on in separate pieces or a rickety boxy Winnebago to tediously assemble, the set overwhelms the drama, and I had plenty of time to imagine how either a play or a film would be better than this.