Yussef El Guindi’s Back of the Throat is a sneaky piece of theater, a black comedy far darker than it is funny. It begins as a routine tale of federal agents visiting an Arab-American writer, an amicable “reaching out” to members of the Islamic and Arab communities post-9/11. A U.S. citizen, Khaled is more than willing to help the government with whatever information they think he might be able to offer, though he is nonplussed as to why they’d actually need to visit him. The head investigator, Bartlett, is a forthcoming bureaucrat and almost apologetic that it has become his job to make these kinds of visits.
But at some point the mood changes — Bartlett and his assistant point out some of the books they’ve spied lying around Khaled’s apartment, a few titles concerning “communism,” “guns,” and “rebellion.” Having also found a stash of nudie magazines under the couch, they lecture on “perversity” and what such behavior often runs hand in hand with.
One of the fascinating aspects of this production is the faint sense that Khaled might indeed be guilty of something — not necessarily terrorism, but of deeper sympathies. Brilliantly choreographed dream sequences — possibly flashbacks — feature a dead hijacker whose potential past relationship with Khaled blurs the line between fact and fiction, as do many facets of Khaled’s life over the course of the interrogation. A chilling scene in which a former girlfriend with an axe to grind betrays Khaled brings full circle the mixing of the personal, the political, and the nature of truth.