The press release for the upcoming political play Us and Them announces that it has been "developed over the last nine months (and `at a cost of` $12,000)." But writer/director/producer Bob Di Cerbo isn't trying to win us over with hints of high production values. He's more interested in revealing the labor that was involved in this labor of love.
"I'm not looking for money," Di Cerbo says of the show, an election-season offering he'd rather discuss in terms of procedure than content. "I'm going to lose money," he predicts.
Having compounded the effort of his first playwriting project with the extra tasks of directing and producing, Di Cerbo often found the preparation process intimidating. "At times, the immensity of trying to portray what I wanted to properly got overwhelming," he says. He's not only referring to the money, the time or the research involved in writing the piece; he even had some trouble finding a cast.
"I mean, the first three auditions I held, no one showed up."
As a former member of the board of directors of the Central Florida Performing Arts Alliance, Di Cerbo was fortunate in knowing whom to turn to. Alauna McMillen, the Alliance's director of programs and finance, helped cast and organize a private reading in July to get feedback. Finally ready for consumption, the play debuts Sept. 2 at the Studio Theatre.
If mounting the play was a daunting task, learning anything substantive about its makeup is no less difficult. Di Cerbo has been promoting it at political functions around town, calling it "sure to raise the voting bar." However, he maintains a casual paranoia of answering even general queries like which way he might want the November election to swing. Questions about the play draw one-word responses, followed by a pause as he mulls the least revealing answer.
"The aim `of the piece` is to be informative," he says. He doesn't want the audience to think he's chosen a side for them: "The play was written to influence the undecided voter. I want them to see `the facts` for themselves and then decide one way or the other."
As regards format and plot, Di Cerbo will only say that the play references real-world facts and incorporates a few familiar faces (W. himself has a small part) while following an original storyline populated by fictional characters. There's even a love story. The exact meaning of the title is also a well-guarded secret, though Di Cerbo suggests it's meant to be taken as a question, possibly reversing the adversarial stereotype embodied in the phrase "us and them." The overall theme, he allows, is one of "morality in government."
Whose morality, pray tell? Di Cerbo, who considers himself "consciously spiritual," says he's chosen to stick to the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount for inspiration. They come the closest, he says, to representing the major tenets of any faith or philosophy. So can we assume that his own play charges our current federal administration packed with more than its share of religious zealots with actually being amoral?
"Well," he dodges, "that's what you gotta pay your 10 bucks to see."
Divining the details of Di Cerbo's life is a less complicated prospect. He's a Philadelphia-bred actor who went professional in New York in the 1980s, then moved to Orlando during the "Hollywood East" hype of 1990. Here, he opened an Internet-based vacations business, Orlando 4 Free, which he still owns and operates. He only recently returned to the stage, having played a small role in Worlds Apart, a 9/11-themed drama staged in October 2002 at the Cherry Street Theatre.
His interest in helming Us and Them, Di Cerbo says, came from reading "certain books" he asked that they not be named, to avoid the appearance of any political affiliation that violated a principle he had long held dear. It's a principle taught to him by his father, Eugene, the former chief U.S. probation officer for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania: Even in the highest positions of power, a man should maintain a "certain integrity." That lesson, Di Cerbo says, was a guiding force behind his playwriting debut.
Though he touts Us and Them as "rewritten and audience-tested to ensure its being appealing (and) entertaining," Di Cerbo is most concerned with fostering enlightenment. He says it is "absolutely essential" to the democratic process that citizens participate, and that the least one can do is to cast an educated vote. Like Michael Moore, he's trying to go one step further and help inform the voters even if he doesn't want to inform them of how he'll be informing them.