Saturday, April 26, 2008

New York, Spring 2008 -- Day Ten, "Betrayed"


On walking out of "Betrayed," the new play being presented by the Culture Project, a theater group headquartered in SoHo, my companions for the evening asked what I thought. I said it was "interesting, but in the way a New Yorker article is interesting." This makes sense, because -- as I found out when I looked at the program for the first time this morning -- the playwright, George Packer, is a New Yorker writer.

The story is a very simple one: three Iraqis go to work as translators for the US during the early stages of the war, then find themselves cut adrift when the insurgency begins and they are labeled as traitors to their country -- or various factions within it. Packer's script gives an insider's view of what takes place inside the homes (and minds) of some Iraqis, as Packer has visited the country six times since the start of the war.

Intisar, Laith and Adnan have dreams like everyone else -- they want a peaceful place to live, they want to spend time with their families, they want to chance to use their talents to make a better world. As you can probably imagine (and you don't have to see "Betrayed" to find this out, simply watch CNN), none of these dreams come to fruition.

The problem with "Betrayed" is that it lacks a sense of real drama. The verisimilitude is there -- Packer's on-ground experience guarantees that. The facts are in place, but the fire is missing. Part of this is likely due to Pippin Parker's flaccid direction and staging. There's not a lot of imagination at work here, so what we get is a set and staging that feels like something you'd see from the local community college theater department: workmanlike, but not transforming. The actors do their best (except for the gentleman playing the US ambassador, who was embarrassingly bad), and the peek into the everyday lives of Iraqis is enlightening, but overall, "Betrayed" left me "unsatisfied."

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