Raymond Shaw is a young American hero, the first Congressional Medal of Honor winner since Vietnam. Decorated for saving his troops in a peacekeeping mission in the Middle East, he has returned to the U.S. and a career as a journalist in Washington, D.C. His wealthy widowed mother has married the repugnant racist Senator John Iselin, wedding her lust for power to his crude demagoguery. Through ruthless manipulation of the media, the power elite and the disenchanted masses, Mrs. Iselin maneuvers her husband closer and closer to the vice-presidential nomination. She even masterminds Raymond's marriage to Jocie Jordan, the beautiful daughter of Senator Tom Jordan, the favored candidate for vice-president. In a series of chilling flashbacks, Raymond is shown to have been no war hero, but a prisoner brainwashed by mysterious captors in the Middle East. It was during the brainwashing sessions that Raymond killed several of his own men in cold blood, was told he saved them, and the seeds were planted for future murders using Raymond as the dupe. One of the other prisoners, and a survivor, was Ben Marco, who discovers the international conspiracy that depends upon Raymond killing a number of prominent figures. As Ben vainly attempts to find someone to believe him in order to stop the killing, Raymond struggles to understand his own dreams and flashbacks while systematically murdering the people who are blocking the Iselin nomination: the savvy editor of his newspaper, his father-in-law and even Jocie. When Ben finally unravels the final step in the plot, he races to the Republican Convention to prevent Raymond from completing the final murder: the assassination of the president, who has just chosen Johnny Iselin as his running mate. In his last confrontation with his mother, Raymond learns that she has been a part of this ongoing plot and has used him as a murdering pawn in her scheme to put Johnny Iselin in the White House. With a deep, incestuous kiss, she sends him to his fate. As these characters engage in the final battle for ultimate power, the play reaches a crescendo of almost unbearable suspense.
Picture this: America in the grip of Japan, an assassination plot against the president, a weak vice-president, the threat of nuclear war in the Persian Gulf, espionage, intrigue, incest, and the likelihood of a right wing takeover of the United States. Sound familiar? Lahr brings Richard Condon's celebrated novel into the present to build an evening of suspense and drama far more exciting than any election night. "John Lahr's ingenious updating substitutes Japan-bashing for the red-baiting of Richard Condon's original, producing a wonderfully preposterous scenario involving a brain-washed killer and a plot to make Tokyo dependent on US oil by nuking the Gulf." —Times of London. "…a slick adaptation by John Lahr." —The Guardian (UK).