“From the Deep,” rising playwright Cassie M. Seinuk’s two-act, two-hour, two-person fictitious play about an Israeli prisoner of war and an American student captive thrown together, packs a potent, emotional punch at the Plaza Black Box Theater. The play is making its East Coast premiere with Boston Public Works Theater Company through March 28.
Seinuk, Jewish-Cuban playwright and AEA stage manager, won the 2014 Boston University Jewish Cultural Endowment Grant, and second place in the Latinidad Playwriting Award at the 2014 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Her play is the second project of Boston Public Works Theater, a seven-member playwright collective producing their own fully-staged plays, in the next two years. They’ll disband after everyone’s works appeared.
Seinuk’s fascinating play is loosely based on two authentic young men who went missing. She delves into what potentially keeps captives going, mentally and physically, and their hope - or hopelessness - for survival, in an undisclosed, abysmal, surreal, windowless room.
Megan Kinneen’s opaque, cluttered set with its taunting, non-working, “prehistoric” TV set and CD player, is punctuated with sound designer Mike Stanton’s ticking clocks, demanding door buzzes and sci-fi crescendoes, while Chris Bocchiaro’s lighting pulsates, beckoning each captive to pass through his door, and ultimately his fate.
We’re rapt, on the edge of our seats, throughout their terrifying forays into the unknown.
Seinuk peppers their dialogue with facts about Israeli military POW-MIA, Cpl. Gilad Shalit and Jonathan Dailey, 23-year-old Boston Architectural College graduate student, originally from Charlotte, NC. Dailey disappeared mysteriously in October 2012 in Boston, and was found dead later in the Charles River, chains around his body, his legs tied to a cinder block. Dailey was working at an American Apparel clothing store at the time, and was best friends with his roommate, Miles Smith, 23. His murder remains unsolved.
Shalit, captured at age 19 in June 2006, was the sole survivor of a tank explosion attack along the Gaza border, and held hostage for five years. He was finally freed October 2011, in exchange of 1,027 prisoners, per arrangement of the Israeli government and Hamas. Shalit became a sports columnist.
The theater lobby is plastered with authentic information about these two men, and theatergoers are invited to post stick-its on the wall, airing their thoughts on abduction and captivity. On another wall, fictional “Free Ilan” posters and T-shirts set the tone for what comes next - a deeply moving, intense insider’s view of two captives thrown together, marking time and motivating each other.
Successfully working with sharp-eyed director Lindsay Eagle, Charles Linshaw delivers a hard-hitting performance as Ilan Shaliach, 26-year-old Israeli soldier-POW, as does Jeff Marcus, portraying Andrew Dayton, 23, Pennsylvania native, Boston architectural student, and clothing store employee.
The captives are chronologically similar and emotional foils, yet Ilan is convinced they’re placed together for a reason. Ilan relies on his military training and long captivity to keep his hopes up. He’s perpetually moving, throwing balls, doing calisthenics, making lists, recalling his family tree, and urging new roommate Andrew to play games - ping pong, card games, word and mind games, physical games - to keep his mind and body active. When Ilan is summoned by his captors, he readily complies, knowing he may be beaten, but it will bring him closer to freedom, he says.
Andrew fears torture and says he has no hope. Nobody is looking for him. He’s only a person. He has a secret that’s tied to his abduction, convincing him further nobody will care about him. And Andrew has choking fits, probably anxiety attacks and precursors of doom.
Besides, Andrew knows Ilan is an international hero. There are rallies everywhere, including liberal American colleges, demanding Ilan’s freedom, he says.
Many scenes are heart-stopping, from Ilan’s coaching Andrew to conquer his fear and remain mentally and physically active, to their battling each other after (thanks to fight director Rose Fieschko).
Besides mounting tension and action, Seinuk employs symbolism and captivating, metaphoric illusion that bolsters the play’s pathos, keeping theatergoers conversing long after the end.
BOX INFO: Two-act, two-hour, two-person play by Cassie M. Seinuk, presented by Boston Public Works Theater Company through March 28, in the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) Black Box Theater, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston: Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.bostonpublicworks.org.