Written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
Directed by Tea Alagic
Long-practiced habits and behaviors, no matter how steadfastly observed or chemically repressed, remain forever volatile and dangerous in Lidless
, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig's drama—being premiered by Page 73 Productions
through October 15—about the long-term psychological effects of interrogation tactics on a former guard and a released prisoner who met at Guantanamo Bay. We witness one especially invasive tactic being employed in the opening scene, during which a cocky interrogator practices "Invasion of Space by a Female
," a technique controversially endorsed by the White House.
Performing this invasive ritual on the stripped, cement-sided Walkserspace stage, with a bloody, partly obscured mural on the theater's rear wall, U.S. soldier Alice (Danielle Skraastad) gets a little more enjoyment than seems necessary from the procedure. When, fifteen years later—the play is mostly set in the immediate future—Alice's victim turns up at her suburban flower shop the woman he finds is barely recognizable. But it doesn't take much provocation on Bashir's (Laith Nakli) part to bring the aggressive army attitude out of Alice, a side of herself she's kept secret from her cleaned-up addict husband Lucas (Thom Rivera) and tomboy teenage daughter Rhiannon (Emma Galvin). Bashir hasn't tracked his interrogator down to exact his revenge, at least not exactly; he wants half her liver because his is failing following an untreated case of tuberculosis contracted at Gitmo. Bashir's request of Alice and (not incidental) quick kinship with her quirky daughter begin to undo the family's delicately balanced home life, one predicated on so many suppressed habits.
Such a short and psychologically charged play thrives on the chemistry between its players, and here one set of scenes is consistently stronger than the other. The quasi-love triangle between Alice, Bashir and Rhiannon is barbed wire-sharp, and those three actors intensify one another's performances greatly. Scenes involving Lucas—a character neither fully relegated to comic relief nor given sufficient complexity—and Alice's best friend and co-veteran Riva (Maha Chehlaoui), seem slack by comparison, their closeness to the leads implied in the dialogue but not evident in its delivery. This unevenness undermines the play's wrenching tension, as do some superfluously stylized and strobe-lit scene transitions. "Americans love reinvention," Bashir tells Alice; but as Cowhig makes poignantly clear, no reinvention can completely conceal what existed before.
(Photo: Richard Termine)