note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Beverly Creasey
About this time every year, as we head into award season, I start fielding calls about the criteria we use to choose winners. As we remind people every year, not everyone who has been nominated, makes it to final ballot. The Sugan Theatre Company, who set the standard for compelling theater and superb acting, alas, didn’t make it to the finals this year…which may mean there were many, many other fine productions to consider…or it may mean, as has been suggested, that we’re “nuts.” Many an inquiry brings up the issue of a critic’s “credentials.” You know, as the famous critic and playwright G.B. Shaw quipped, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach” or as many an actor has thought upon reading an unfavorable notice: Those who haven’t a clue about theater, review it. You may be surprised to know, that many of us spent years treading the boards. I should like to weigh in with a proposal. If you want to see what we can do, get down to the Boston Center for the Arts to see former AISLE SAY critic, Geralyn Horton, set the stage on fire in the Sugan’s chilling TALKING TO TERRORISTS.
Carmel O’Reilly and company put their hearts and souls into Robin Soans’ compassionate plea for peace in a world ready to explode. The first act consists mostly of testimonials from aid workers, government officials, freedom fighters, and pithy commentary from an expert on the subject of terrorism, which provides welcome humor in this sea of hopelessness. Working against the production is what psychiatrist Robert Lifton calls “psychic numbing.” After three or four accounts of torture, you can’t bear to hear any more so you stare at J. Michael Griggs’ gorgeous stained glass apartment complex or you let your mind focus on the smashing job the actors are doing, in playing five or six different roles (and nationalities) each. Act II features several scenes with the same characters, making engagement ever so much easier.
I hoped Soans had had the chance to interview one of the American hostages kidnapped while Jimmy Carter was president but the closest he gets in the play are references to Terry Anderson by the Archbishop’s envoy. (I had the opportunity to hear one of the former hostages speak not long after his release, a man from Massachusetts, whose pain and anger were almost unbearable. I will never forget his furious accusation of animal activists as the parties responsible for his five year imprisonment. If they had put the same zeal into getting him freed that they do into “saving poodles,” he ranted, then he, Anderson and the rest, could have come home sooner. How sad and remarkably unusual was his testimony that I felt it should be included in a play sometime.)
Back to TALKING TO TERRORISTS, which is the only way, says Horton’s British Secretary of State, of stopping the madness. I haven’t seen better work from a number of the actors I’ve seen before, which is a tribute to their skill and that of director O’Reilly. Dale Place gives a wry performance as the psychologist who demonstrates how to recruit someone to, say, rid the world of SUVs (Sign me up!). You don’t often see his comic side on stage because he’s so often cast in drama. Dafydd Rees, too, gives a chilling performance as a soldier in the IRA. Gabriel Kuttner makes the British Ambassador’s despair palpable. Everyone, from Eve Kagan’s doomed schoolgirl to Lau Lapides’ depleted journalist to Mason Sand’s implacable government secretary to Mario Mariani’s exasperated colonel, turns in work that will make your hair stand on end. Yes, Soans’ play is preaching to the choir but maybe we need to be reminded that we live in a country where we can express our outrage. As the cartoon goes, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. Maybe we have to express our outrage a little louder.