Theater Review: “Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them”
“Sometimes different strokes for different folks can go too far,” Reverend Mike (Stephen Ryan) says in self-defense after Leonard (Bill Patton) accuses him of befriending the alleged terrorist, Zamir (Arash Mokhtar). Reverend Mike’s rebuttal captures the thesis of playwright Christopher Durang’s political satire, Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them, currently playing at the Firehouse Theatre Project.
Durang exposes the influence of post-9/11 Bush-era political extremism on inflaming our private fears. He takes the opportunity to embody this critique through the character Leonard. Bill Patton convincingly inhabits his role as a Republican whose xenophobia receives justification from government-approved malice toward those who appear to be Middle Easterners. His political philosophy ardently espouses a fondness for the “War on Terror.”
Leonard prompts an investigation against Zamir to bring him to his definition of justice. He’s paranoid that Zamir, who married his daughter, Felicity (Eva DeVirgilis), after a drunken encounter at Hooters that included a date-rate drug, is plotting an attack against the United States. Understandably, Felicity wants an annulment, as soon as possible.
Not everyone in the family is against Zamir. Luella (Irene Ziegler), Felicity’s mother, is too busy prattling over playwright Tom Stoppard’s repertoire and Wicked to notice that even if Zamir were a terrorist—why would he be? Zamir claims he’s Irish—he could blow the house up with his cell phone. Rounding out the cast is Hildegarde (Lisa Kotula), Leonard’s accomplice, and the Voice/Narrator (Steve Organ), who pleasantly sings “Dancing in the Dark” at the show’s finale.
The cast handles the wry humor with disproportion. Bill Patton’s great with the Jane Fonda and homosexual jokes, but there are moments when Zamir’s anger gets bewildering and Luella’s inside theater jokes are too abstruse to be funny for a mass audience. Be sure to educate yourself on Tom Stoppard before attending.
Set against the backdrop of “pretty much right now,” Edwin Slipek, Jr.’s rotating set shifts from a motel bedroom where we first meet Felicity and Zamir butt naked, Luella’s playbill-filled living room, to Leonard’s “butterfly collection” in the family’s attic. This twisting and turning takes the audience for a ride along the plot’s absurd terrain, tour guided by director Billy Christopher Maupin.
Durang superimposes on the play a construct in which Felicity stops the show and has it rewind to the beginning. His writing style concentrates on improvisation. Yet, most of the drama—from this rewinding to the end—reveals the carelessness of the exposition, jumping from one idea to the next, each unrelated to the subject matter of political fanaticism. I think better welding between Maupin’s sensible casting and the script’s hyperactivity would have left us with a more truthful retrospective of America in a post-9/11 age.
3 out of 5 Stars
“Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them” runs through December 4th, 2011 at the Firehouse Theatre Project. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.firehousetheatre.org/. Photo courtesy Firehouse Theatre Project.
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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