Reviewed by Will Stackman
Less than a year ago, Robin Soans' "Talking with Terrorists", opened in London commissioned by the Royal Court and Out of Joint. This verbatim docudrama which covers the last two decades blends interviews from members of the political establishment, mostly retired, with the words of footsoldiers from the frontlines of terrorism, covering the last two decades, paints a bleak picture of the state of the world. The latter are mostly in exile. There's an almost numbing sense of deja vu. The testimony of Soans' interviewees offers only the wan hope that at least they survived, much like Job's messengers.
One of Boston's best directors, Carmel O'Reilly, has assembled a first-rate cast to embody the 29 distinct voicesfor this American premiere. Geralyn Horton, who's been seen recently playing the lead in a revival of Yamaguchi-Alfaro's "Martha Mitchell," starts the show with the word's of Mo Mowlan, a retired Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from the Labor party, who insists that one can only understand terrorists by talking to them. For more than two hours this play does. Petite Wesleyan and LAMBDA grad Eve Kagan first becomes a former child soldier, China Keitsei from Uganda. Lau Lapides, a Babson and Bentley faculty member, soon appears as Phoebe, a relief worker from "Save the Children" to suggest the hopelessness of Western response to that ongoing situation. Lapides also plays a Lebanese journalist who escapes from Falujah just in time. Horton also plays a Conservative party member who survived the Brighton bombing, a staffer for the Foreign Office, and Mrs. Tebbit, who was paralyzed in the hotel attack.
Another LAMBDA grad Gabriel Kuttnershows up as an Ulster Volunteer, Martin Snodden, and morphs into the British Ambassador to Uzbekastan, Craig Murray. Mario Mariani is outstanding both as a Turkish Kurd, Ali Boyraz, exiled to England as well as a British Army colonel who's been both in Belfast and Basra. Boston's own Dale Place early on becomes a psychologist discussing the etiology of terrorism, which "begins with the children." By the end he's another retired but frustrated SS, Norman Tebbit, now in the House of Lords.Dayfdd Rees, seen last year as the victim in Sugan's tragicomedy "Gagarin Way", is the "Brighton" bomber, ex-IRA man Patrick Magee as well as long time Western hostage in Lebanon, Anglican envoy Terry Waite. Mason Sand, a Company One member, plays the head of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Bethlehem, Jihad Youseef Khalil Jaara, from his teens to exile. Kuttner, Mariani, and Rees have all been seen at WHAT on the Cape. Company One is currently presenting a play about a popular Fenway High School teacher from Africa threatened with deportation created by playwright Kirsten Greenidge and students from the Boston Arts Academy in the BCA Black Box right next door,
O'Reilly and this excellent ensemble keep what is necessarily a talky show moving smoothly along against the background of a simple abstract set created by Harvard's J. Michael Griggs, Sugan's usual designer. He's backed the first half with pivoted flats depicting bland tower blocks typical of urban England. These are removed at intermission to reveal an abstract collage of table lamps stretching across the back behind a scrim, which become the final visual for the show, as Christmas carols play, part of Nathan Leigh's effective sound design, The last person to speak is Kagan's Bethlehem schoolgirl, trapped in her home, giving her feelings about 9/11.
The various character changes are facilitated byRachel Padula Shufelt's smart costuming, allowing Kagan, for example, to play both a Ugandan child soldier and Nodira, the belly-dancing mistress of a British ambassador or Mariani to become a convincing Kurd and a tough Special Forces colonel. Once again, Sugan's sure approach to staging has produced a memorable show, intelligently lit by John R. Malinowski in the Plaza's somewhat difficult confines. The final result is practically seamless as this sampling of the world's woes and the powerlessness of government as usual becomes increasingly clear. "Talking with Terrorists", by presenting the viewpoint of survivors from both sides, without the political rhetoric which thoroughly obscures what seems to be a social pandemic, is a much-needed piece of serious theatre, the kind of moral enquiry which satisfies Hamlet's injunction and the ancient purpose of drama.