I've always been a fan of Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, Frank McGuinness's 1992 play about three hostages sharing a cell in Lebanon. As the three menan Englishman, an Irishman, and an Americantalk about religion, politics, their families and their lives, they are working together to overcome their boredom and their fears. It is a beautiful play.
The Group Rep's production at the Lonny Chapman Theatre has a stunning opening. When you enter the theatre, Adam, the American, is sitting on a small stool in his cell, facing away from the audience. His foot is chained to the wall; his hands are bound behind him with rope; a black hood covers his head. He is naked to the waist, and we can see dirt and bruises on his body. We hear street noises from the outside of his cinder block cell; city life goes on just a few feet from his captivity, wholly unaware of, or unconcerned for, his predicament. It's an extremely effective opening for the playit certainly makes every second of the pre-show wait tick by uncomfortably, and watching the audience react to Adam makes for an interesting study. One woman, upon noticing Adam move slightly, stated aloud, "It's real," and "it moved." Was she calling Adam "It" because she genuinely thought The Group Rep had created an animatronic hostage? Or was this just a subconscious response to the dehumanizing treatment the man was suffering?
The problem with the opening, though, is that it is almost too good. Nothing that follows has anywhere near the same impact. Indeed, once the play actually begins, the hood is gone, there is no rope on Adam's wrists, and Adam now has a companion. While the situation Adam and Edward (and, eventually, Michael) find themselves in is indisputably unpleasant, it isn't as unspeakably awful as Adam's pre-show captivity.
It could be made to work. While the hostages' captivity is not as horrible as it could have been, the men are still hostagesnot guys deserted in a cabin in the woods or even inmates in a prison. And because they are hostages, and subject to the uncontrolled whims of their captors, the fear that their captors could make things worse for them should always be near the surface. The men might be recounting their favorite sporting events or inventively scripting movies for each other, but it should be clear to everyone that they're really doing this to distract themselves from dwelling on the real terror of their situation. And the problem with this production is that, after the play begins, the fear just isn't there. Without it, when the guys pretend to make movies or write letters home, it just seems too pat.
Indeed, the production often comes off as a series of unconnected little vignettesthe "letters home" bit, the "movie shooting" bit, the "tennis match" bitrather than a connected play. Lloyd Pedersen, as Michael, does the best job of the three actors in creating an overarching plotline for his character. Michael begins as a confused captive, a prissy Englishman who appears unable to process the fact that he's been kidnapped. But he learns to cope from the other men and, as the play moves on, Pedersen shows us how Michael finds his strength. Evan L. Smith has more trouble with Adam; his perspective changes from scene to scene, but the changes aren't always explicable. Bert Emmett has mixed luck with Edward, the overbearing Irishman. In the first act, you can't see what's going on behind his abrasiveness. But in the second act, he's much more effective, helping to bring the play to an emotionally moving conclusion. It's a mixed bag, to be sure, but it could be so much more.
Someone Who'll Watch Over Me continues at The Group Rep through June 2, 2013. For tickets and information, see www.thegrouprep.com
The Group Rep presents Someone Who'll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness. Director Gregg T. Daniel; Producer for the Group Rep Laura Coker; Assistant Director Jennifer Ross; Stage Manager Emily Doyle; Set Design Gary Lee Reed; Lighting Design Kim Smith; Costume Design Elizabeth Nankin; Sound Design Steve Shaw; Props Laura Coker & Emily Doyle; Music Supervisor Paul Cady; Dialect Coach Andrea Odinov Fuller; Public Relations Nora Feldman; Graphic Design Doug Haverty/Art & Soul Design