Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Imperialism, Infanticide, and an Escape at Intermission
art cred: Jan-Willem Van-Ewijk
The American Pilot
Through May 24.
The first image: a farmer, in what we assume is an Islamic country, hauling an injured American pilot on his back. The long, slow walk across the small, dim stage is a tender and meditative beginning to a tragedy about how dangerous a superpower can be, even in the form of one battered man who is barely alive.
The farmer (José Amador) keeps the pilot (Daniel Wood) in his shed, bringing him food, offering him cigarettes, and waiting for the local warlord (Chris MacDonald) to show up and decide what to do. The American Pilot (a 2005 play by Scottish writer David Greig) is saturated in desperation: Everybody wants something he cannot have. The pilot wants to go home and, until then, listen to Snoop Dogg on his iPod. The farmer wants to help his bloody guest. The farmer's starry-eyed daughter (Carolyn Marie Monroe) wants to marry the pilot. The warlord, menacing in his sunglasses and boots, wants to parlay the pilot into some advantage for his tiny guerrilla army, and his internal debate about how to proceed is The American Pilot's central dilemma. Should he hold him hostage? Ransom him to the Americans? Cut his head off for a $1 million bounty that local terrorists are offering? Just return him and hope for the best? MacDonald gives a tense, brooding performance as the tortured torturer, a battle-weary idealist who wants to be merciful, but also wants to do right by his cause.
A small, intense script about miscommunication and morality, The American Pilot effectively humanizes both the American military and the kinds of people who saw off American heads. The production has only one bad actor and the script has only one major failing—the overwrought monologues each character gives about what the American pilot means to him. (The farmer says something about the American pilot being "too beautiful, with skin like sand flecked with gold" or something disagreeably purple.) But its drama is taut and its flaws are few. BRENDAN KILEY
Medea Knows Best
Nebunele Theater at Capitol Hill Arts Center
Through May 25.
This comical adaptation of a Greek tragedy begins with a man (Jason) and a woman (Medea), who are reunited in a war-torn country (America in the age of Terror). The couple happens to reunite in front of a large TV. On the screen is a program that recalls The Truman Show: suburbia in an eerie state of perfection.
The reunited couple (played by Laurence Hughes and Heather Persinger) magically enters the TV land and becomes a part of its content community. Here, women are women and men are men. The women cook, knit, and raise children; the men work, work, and fall asleep. In TV land, the reunited couple has a small home, regular hours of work and rest, and two healthy babies. But something is wrong in paradise. That something is human—all too human—desire. Jason falls in love with Creon's daughter (Davie-Blue Bacich), a woman who holds the moon at night. Jason eventually leaves his wife for the woman of the moon. If you know what happens in Euripides's play, then you know what happens in this loose interpretation of that tragedy.
The problems with Medea Knows Best reside in its script, which was written by the play's director, Claytie Mason, and one of its actors, Alissa Mortenson. The writers went wrong in the final act—it has the heaviness of revealing a final and amazing truth, but its truth is not heavy or staggering. We already know that life in the suburbs is empty and soulless. Even people living in the suburbs know that. Medea Knows Best should never have pushed beyond the lightness of its music and comedy. CHARLES MUDEDE
Through June 7.
The best thing about S2, a new action-thriller by local playwright Edward Mast, is its ingenious language. The worst thing is its length—two and a half hours.
Set in a dystopian future, S2 follows a 14-year-old prostitute named Slate (Alex Garnett) who is trying to sell a suitcase full of mysterious white powder. He hijacks planes, dodges assassins, and stumbles into a war zone, all on Annex's small stage. Too many productions would confront the script's action-movie demands by reaching for weak realism, forcing their actors to flail through half-assed fight scenes. But Mast and director Robert G. Leigh lean into the problem. Their actors speak terse stage directions—grab!, stiletto!, free-fall!, roll on feet and recover!—giving the violence a comic-book feel. It works.
And, like all good science fiction, S2 is a satire. Sex dominates conversation in Mast's future world as the prime metaphor and measuring stick for all experience. A soldier, discussing affection: "Old people are like pets. Love for them feels good though does not involve orgasm." A hopeful urchin: "The world has had intercourse with us forever, but now it turns and touches its lips to our lips." An advertisement, blaring from a speaker: "A day at Magicland Amusement Park will involve no sexual threat to you or your children."
Unfortunately, S2 is an action-thriller yoked to a playwright's preciousness: It's too convoluted and too long. With the language, style, and strong acting (especially Garnett and ensemble member Jaime Roberts), the first 45 minutes sail by. But by intermission, one wants to escape. So I did. BRENDAN KILEY