Billed as “A suspense thriller that explores religious superstition and terrorism in the name of Islam versus unscrupulous Western imperialism and war mongering,” this play delivered on that concept, delving into various expressions of those conflicting positions, but wisely avoiding a meeting of the minds or “kumbaya moment.”
By Carol Edger Germain
John Norton (played by Ted Monte), an American art expert and specialist in early writing, is visiting Baghdad Museum to view their collection of pagan statutes and to purchase an early Sumerian tablet with cuneiform writing. A group of rather amateur terrorists and hostage takers has reached the conclusion that John is a spy working for the CIA, and kidnap him and secure him in a cave while developing ransom and Islamic promotion plan. However, these these terrorists are not in sync on their knowledge, focus, and ultimate goal.
Michel Wakim as the leader, Zakir, is cold, dictatorial, and focused on the ransom (he also plays the curator of the museum at the opening, which I didn’t even realize during the play, the characters were both done so well). Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari as Amir presents his religious extremism so fervently, you want to respect his dedication but wish he had a different cause, because it is frustrating to see him so blinded by fanaticism that he can no longer think logically or critically. The final commitment by Jamil (Ronak Ghandi), the British citizen with Arabic heritage (a bit of overkill on the accent) seems to not be set in stone, even though he professes a fight-to-the-death stance. Aneesha Madhok, as Jamil’s wife, Myiesha , also seems a bit out-of-sync with the other terrorists, but I don’t think it was intentional, I think she just needs a little more practice in terrorist speech patterns, she is a bit Western. Kasim (Nima Jafari) is the brooding head guard, and seems to always be itching for a reason to inflict violence, even death, on the prisoner; there are several moments where I wasn’t sure which way that possibility would go. It was also not clear which way John was headed, as Monte played him very effectively as being open to listening and learning about extremist Islamic beliefs, even reading from the Koran and participating in a prayer ritual. But is he sincerely interested or is he feigning open mindedness to stall the process and give him an opportunity for escape? Edward Scheibner as American Ambassador Robert Compte is unwavering in presenting America’s position that “we do not negotiate with terrorists.”
All in all a worthwhile afternoon, leading to more thought and research afterward. The scene where Moses Leon Norton plays the “Bull of Heaven” statue (fantastic mask and make-up) was one of my favorite scenes, though brief and disconnected from the rest of the play.
There is one pivotal line in the play that defines it, is the “Aha moment,” and I considered using it as the title of this review, but when discussing it with Ted Monte after the play, he agreed but mentioned how he hates it when the title of the movie gives away the defining line, nearly acting as a spoiler, and I reconsidered and decided to let future audiences listen for it.
• Written and Directed by Christopher Vened
• Produced by Rebecca Robertson-Szwaja
(Includes brief nudity)
13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
• Now through Oct. 7
Saturdays at 8 p.m: Sept. 15, Sept. 22, Sept. 29, Oct. 6
Sundays at 3 p.m.: Sept. 16, Sept. 23, Sept. 30, Oct. 7
• $35, $20 (students with Valid ID). Tickets at WhitefireTheatre.com
(Discount tickets also available @ goldstar.com)
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