AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Sharr White
Directed by Brian P. Luce
Dragon Productions Theatre
2120 Broadway St., Redwood City, CA / (650) 493-2006

Reviewed by Judy Richter

When, if ever, is torture justified?

That's one of the questions at the heart of Sharr White's "Sunlight," presented by Dragon Theatre, but the issues extend beyond that as four characters grapple with their changing relationships.

Matthew (Tom Bleecker) is the liberal president of a small, private East Coast university. His son-in-law, Vincent (Ben Ortega), is a longtime protege who has become dean of the university's law school. Matthew allowed him to take that post even though Vincent's views are much more conservative.

Matthew is appalled that Vincent has helped to write a justification for the torture, a.k.a. enhanced interrogation, of terrorism suspects in the wake of 9/11. Such interrogation includes waterboarding. Matthew's reaction leads him to acts that imperil his job.

Torn between the two men is Charlotte (Marjorie Hazeltine), Vincent's wife and Matthew's daughter. An attorney, she's a survivor of the 9/11 attacks in New York City.

Maryanne (Monica Cappuccini) is Matthew's longtime, no-nonsense executive assistant who sometimes serves as referee in the other characters' encounters.

Tempers flare and emotions rise and fall one snowy spring evening as the four await the outcome of a faculty vote of confidence or no confidence in Matthew.

White is said to have based his plot on John Yoo, the UC Berkeley law professor who wrote legal memos essentially giving the Bush administration a green light to torture after 9/11.

The Dragon cast, directed by Brian P. Luce, carefully negotiates the play's emotional roller coasters. Each actor is fully engaged.

The simple set is by Jessie Ploog with lighting by William Campbell and sound by Brittany S. Mellerson.

"Sunlight" premiered at Marin Theatre Company in 2010. At the time, I wrote, "It's difficult to predict how this play will fare in later years when the events that inspired it are more distant memories."

Unfortunately, it's still timely. Just this week, in the wake of deadly terrorism attacks in Paris and Mali, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump advocated waterboarding suspected terrorists, among other measures.

The two-act play runs about two hours with one intermission.

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