“The Power of Duff” proves hen in doubt, one can influence others

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Photo by Michael Lamont MIXED FEELINGS: Life starts getting complicated at Channel 10 News after Duff adds an end-of-broadcast prayer. Josh Stamberg, left, portrays Charlie Duff as a non-religious regular guy thrown into a world he never expected in the c

What does it take to become a charismatic spiritual leader, one who has people questioning and empowering their own faith?  Is it possible in our media soaked society to grab the attention of millions of people simply by speaking your mind and sharing your faith, ultimately proving the power of positive thinking?

The West Coast premiere production of “The Power of Duff” by Stephen Belber, directed by Peter DuBois, runs through May 17 in the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, located at 10886 Le Conte Ave. in Los Angeles.

In the West Coast premiere of the complicated and timely play “The Power of Duff” by Stephen Belber, TV anchor Charlie Duff begins to sign-off each Rochester news broadcast with a prayer from his heart about a situation in his own life. His co-workers react negatively, but when a growing crowd of believers becomes glued to their TV sets wondering when their prayers will be answered, the jump in ratings quickly changes the minds of his co-anchors Sue Raspell (Elizabeth Rodriguez), sports co-anchor John Ebbs (Brendan Griffin), and sufficiently slimy station boss Scott Zoellner (Eric Ladin).

The play is ultimately about a person who is fundamentally ambivalent about religion, even about spirituality – who undergoes an emotional transformation, which in turn leads him to a position of being a suddenly looked-to spiritual leader even as his ambivalence continues.  But what his on-air prayers do – and don’t do – to those closest to Duff tests the news anchor’s own beliefs.  Can he inspire others to help each other when he has trouble doing just that in his own life? Stephen Belber’s sharp new play asks if there is anything more vital than the faith we have in ourselves and one another.

Josh Stamberg portrays Charlie Duff as a non-religious regular guy thrown into a world he never expected. At odds with his ex-wife and son Rick (Tanner Buchanan), Duff  along with his deeply troubled sports co-anchor John Ebbs (Brendan Griffin) reaches out to prison inmate Casey (Maurice Williams), hoping he can inspire positive change in the young man’s life. It gives the newsman fodder for addressing the need for real prison reform on his nightly program.  How could he know the resulting actions within the prison system could cause him to become a media sensation when his on-air prayers the inmates well-being result in his miraculous recovery?

And while news anchors are supposed to be fair and objective in their reporting, Duff’s on-air prayers at the end of each broadcast to those in his own life as well as in the world’s news, cause his own life situation to improve as he hears how his words have affected others in spiritual need. Stamberg makes Duff’s transformation to a deeply caring man who learns to put others before his own wants and needs all the more real as he questions his every move along the way, especially as others confide their deepest secrets to him.

Directed by Peter DuBois at the Geffen Playhouse, this fast-paced multi-media production often has the actors switching costume pieces onstage during scene changes to keep the action moving. The monochrome set designed by Clint Ramos in shades of gray allows for video and photo projections designed by Aaron Rhyne to create locations other than the broadcast studio, with the physical doors on the set incorporated into the projection design, making the additional scenes seem all the more real.

Playwright Stephen Belber was an associate writer on Tectonic Theater Project’s groundbreaking play The Laramie Project (Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Award nominations) and a co-writer on The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. His plays have been performed in 25 countries, including his Broadway debut Match starring Frank Langella, which he recently directed as a movie starring Patrick Stewart. His ability to look inside the hearts and souls of his characters always shines through even the most difficult situations. You will walk out questioning your own life and how you can change it for the betterment of yourself as well as all around you.

Performances on Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Ticket prices are $39-$79 and are available in-person at the Geffen Playhouse box office, via phone at (310) 208-5454 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.com.

For Signature Series dates associated with the run (Talk Back Tuesdays, Happy Hour Lounge Fridays, Wine Down Sundays, and Girls Night Out, visit www.GeffenPlayhouse.com/ThePowerofDuffEvents.

“The Power of Duff” proves hen in doubt, one can influence others