Tony-winning Writer Itamar Moses Shows Off Tremendous Talent with ‘The Whistleblower’ at Theater Wit

Playwright Itamar Moses has a resume that screams of talent and success. He has written more plays than many people have seen in their entire lifetime. He has been nominated for most major playwright awards including Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle, and can proudly boast the brilliant plume of a Tony win for Broadway’s The Band’s Visit.

In addition to his writing for the stage, Moses is also a very accomplished television writer. In that medium his credits include Boardwalk Empire, Outsiders, Men of a Certain Age, and The Affair


Moses’ background in television plays a pivotal role in his new work The Whistleblower which is playing at Theater Wit through June 17.  The story’s main character is a struggling television writer who decides to go back home after 13 years away living in Los Angeles. His motive is to change all the disappointments in his life by going back to the people in his hometown that he wronged or otherwise left behind and being unabashedly truthful with them.

Of course, what Eli learns is that there are both benefits and repercussions for being truthful. Sometimes holding one’s tongue or not pursuing things for selfish reasons when it could hurt others really is the right thing to do. You don’t have to lie, but you should always keep your motivations in check and be cognizant of how you affect others.

The play unfolds like an indie movie with a lot of short scenes in a wide range of locations. Most scenes end with a cheeky laugh line reminiscent of 90’s television sitcoms like Seinfeld or Friends. This is, of course, on purpose as that one of the key factors in the show is that when Eli goes home to right the wrongs of his past, the audience is introduced to people who inspired all the television series he had tried to sell to the networks over the years.

There is an ideal medium for every quality story, and The Whistleblower is indeed a quality story. More of a dramedy hybrid than a laugh-out-loud comedy, The Whistleblower definitely works as a stage show, but it seems like the most ideal translation of the story would be as a film. And, it’s a film that could be made on a relatively low budget. Further, many of the performers in this premiere cast have the credentials to help make a film adaptation a viable option.


One of the things that makes The Whistleblower work as a stage play is the ingenious scenic design by Brian Redfern. With very limited space, Redfern offers a set that transforms into many different locations in quick order. The audience transports from location to location with the speed and ease of cutting between locations on a television series.

The way I review theater isn’t about what theater has the biggest budget. Rather, I focus on what the theater is able to accomplish with the budget that it does have. To that end, Redfern’s ever-changing creation for The Whistleblower is about the most remarkable set design seen in Chicago in years. The creativity and functionality are woven together with precision and beauty.

The cast of The Whistleblower is a treasure trove of talent. Keeping with being a play about a writer who is going back to interact with the people who inspired the characters in his stories, many of the small cast play two or more characters. This is not random or accidental. The dual roles of the actors playing the characters is key to the way the story is written.

Ben Faigus is highly engaging as the story’s central character. A veteran of television, film, and stage, Faigus nicely draws on his experience in all of these areas and turns in a really solid performance. He was entirely in character, convincing the audience every step of the way that this was his story and his journey – not something written on the page, but something unfolding naturally in real time.

The play is heavy on monologues, particularly for Faigus as his character goes through many changes and realizations. Yet Faigus handles the heavy line load with the ultimate in character gymnastics.


All of Eli’s monologues are incredibly in-depth with very intricate thought patterns. As Eli’s journeys play out, his thought patterns change – sometimes drastically. Faigus handles this with a brilliant subtlety.

Michael Kostroff co-stars as Eli’s father Joseph, and as Richard – the Hollywood producer who has always had a soft spot for Eli’s writing. Kostroff is a very recognizable star of stage and screen. His credits include five seasons on the legendary HBO series The Wire, as well as recurring roles on The Blacklist and Law & Order: SVU. No stranger to the stage, he was one of the stars of the national tours of The Producers and Les Misérables.

What Kostroff brings to the play is a sense of reliability. He is one of those actors who can always be counted on to be great.

Kostroff is wonderful at creating two entirely different characters that make use of both his dramatic and his comedic skills. The ability to dance to the music of both drama and comedy as appropriate is something that the entire cast excels at.

Rae Gray plays three characters in The Whistleblower, each one rich and developed. All three characters are important to the story and are masterful individual creations ranging from the assistant of Eli’s agent, to Eli’s drug addict sister, to the girl Eli walked out on 13 years ago.

Of the characters, Gray’s performance as Eli’s sister Rachel is one of the best highlights of a overall great show. Doing a manic monologue while measuring out packets of methamphetamines for her abusive criminal boyfriend to sell could be done strictly for laughs. And that would work. But Gray makes it a believable character. The absurdity of the drug addict’s logic is still funny and still gets laughs, but Gray doesn’t sacrifice the integrity of the character to accomplish it.


One of the best performances in The Whistleblower comes from Andrew Jessop, who plays one of Eli’s friends from his youth. Max is an unmedicated schizophrenic. Jessop never resorts to making fun of the disorder, yet still finds the comedic moments. More importantly, the way he shows that a person with mental illness can be profound is to be applauded. Jessop should definitely get consideration as a Best Supporting Actor when Joseph Jefferson Award nominations are announced. The show is Jeff recommended.

Rounding out the cast are William Anthony Sebastian Rose II as Eli’s agent Dan and as his childhood friend Jed; Julia Alvarez as Eli’s current girlfriend Alison, and as Lisa – Jed’s wife who is still defensive of the girl Eli walked out on 13 years ago; and RJW Mays as Eli’s overly protective Jewish mother. All have great moments that show off their wide range of skills.

Direction by Jeremy Wechsler is very effective. Wechsler is the founding artistic director of Theatre Wit who has won numerous awards and rave reviews over the past 15 years as the artistic force driving the theater company. Wechsler could have gone total slapstick with this piece, and that would have been a mistake. What Wechsler has done by embracing both the drama and the comedy is make The Whistleblower the very best show it can be – and one that audiences should be lining up to see.

Lighting design by Levi Wilkins, sound design and original compositions by Jeffrey Levin, costume design by Johan Gallardo, and properties design by Annamae Durham are all excellent. Violence design by Almanya Narula deserves huge applause – very realistic and at the perfect level of intensity for the show.


It’s also important to recognize the contribution of House Manager Alexa Ulrich who gives a sensation pre-show introduction that revs the audience up for a wonderful night of theater, and at the same time establishes the things that will make the show enjoyable for those in neighboring seats such as turning off cell phones.

The Whistleblower is a great new stage show, that I have a strong feeling will be seen adapted to film. It is just too perfectly structured for that medium to ignore. But also don’t ignore it as a stage show. You should make plans now to catch one of the remaining performances.

The Whistlebower plays Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 PM, with Sunday performances are at 2:30 PM. The lovely theater is located at 1229 W. Belmont in Chicago. It is easily accessed by CTA – both train and bus. For ticket information visit or call the box office at (773) 975-8150.

Production photos by Charles Osgood.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Rikki Lee Travolta

For more reviews visit: Theatre in Chicago – your source for What’s on Stage in the Chicago Area


If you appreciate the nature of my words here, I ask that you take just a moment to share this article with your social media of choice. Please help spread the word about The Life and Times of Rikki Lee Travolta to family and friends.


Follow me on Facebook The Life and Times of Rikki Lee Travolta (/rikkileetravolta), LinkedIn (/rltravolta)  and Twitter (@RikkiLeeTV)


Don’t miss a review, feature story, news item, or editorial – Get every new Life and Times story delivered directly to your email!


  1. What a wonderful review and congratulations to Theatre Wit for such a superb production!

Leave a Reply