by Jason Wells
Directed by Michael Donald Edwards
Asolo Repertory Theatre in the Cook Theatre
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, 941-351-8000
World Premiere, May 15 through June 14, 2009

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

Fear has a face: It's David Breitbarth's as microbiologist Walter Kreutzer, hooked up to what he considers an infernal machine. Nevertheless, the polygraph could be key to freeing him from a Kafka-esque situation. He's hired D'Avore Peoples (authoritative, articulate, amusing DeMario McGrew) to teach him mastery over the machine. So as not to justify being accused of a crime, he wants to be able to deny any connection to an immoral covert political situation. Moreover, his lifetime career will be shattered if he is found to have helped, consciously or not, to leak the horror to media and thus the public. As expert Peoples smoothly and with affable humor elaborates on polygraph principles and test taking tricks, Walter remains uptight. Though he agrees to "practice" at home, there his dilemma deepens.

Should he lie to preserve his status in a corrupt organization, Walter would jeopardize his marriage, since his wife Samira (expressive Diana Simonzadeh), from Morocco, feels personally the racism and imperialism he's mixed up with. When she was sure he'd brought home the important memo and left it unguarded, she assumed he needed help bringing it to light. Yet the tension between spouses is now almost unbearable. And a visit from Walter's colleague Roger (Douglas Jones, slick, feigning friendship) certainly doesn't help.

Playwright Jason Wells textures his plot skillfully with tragicomic scenes in which Walter is questioned. Practicing with McGrew's cool polygraph expert, he's petrified by a surprise query and---"as a scientist"---reveals anti-semitic attitudes. Racist ones make him blame the machine and its administrator. When Walter later suspiciously questions his wife, she responds he'll consider her "a crazy Arab." Another surprise comes to Walter after his official polygraph exam. He has to submit to another test, administered by the sinister Dr. Doll (yet always smiling Jason Peck). The result is one that would have done Kafka proud. Both Wells and director Michael Donald Edwards have every right also to take pride in this provocative, beautifully structured play and world premiere production.

It is good to see David Breitbarth, after a series of lesser rep roles this season, take impressive command of the leading one here. Scene designer Jeffrey Dean's mostly gray sets (except for the Kreutzer apartment) with only necessary furniture, under skylight squares that admit no sun, fit the play's mood well. Aaron Muhl's lighting is subtly designed, as is sound by Kevin Kennedy. An Arabic legend over all was a mystery to me.

Marian Wallace is stage manager of the nearly 2 hour production that includes a 15 minute intermission.

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