Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

"We Declare You a Terrorist..."
Round House Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Come from Away

Cody Nickell and Bekah Zornosa
Photo by Margot Schulman Photography
"We Declare You a Terrorist...", Tim J. Lord's incendiary political drama receiving its world premiere at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, uses the 2002 seizure of a crowded Moscow theater by Chechen insurgents as a lens to examine issues of individual and national self-determination and the nature of justice.

In the historical incident, members of a Chechen militia invaded a packed theater showing Nord-Ost, a patriotic musical based on a Russian novel and inspired by Les Misérables. The purpose of the attack was to bring attention to Russia's control of Chechnya; after a siege of about 57 hours, Russian special forces used a powerful sedation gas to subdue both attackers and hostages, leading to the deaths of many of the hostages.

Lord's claustrophobic play, staged with maximum tension by directors Ryan Rilette and Jared Mezzocchi, takes place a year after the siege, beginning with an unnamed man (Cody Nickell) and a decrepit interrogation room (designed with thorough detail by Lawrence E. Moten III, down to the water damage on the walls). A burly FSB officer (Elliott Bales) drags in the man in restraints–he is the author and producer of Nord-Ost and had been one of the hostages–then alternately flatters and threatens him in his quest for information.

Part of the genius of Rilette and Mezzocchi's staging is the way they have integrated projections as dramatizations of the Writer's memories. Mezzocchi, also credited as multimedia designer, has worked with lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker to bring to life Masha (Bekah Zornosa), a self-aware teenager in the audience that night, and Kayira (Ava Eisenson), one of the Muslim occupiers. Matthew M. Nielson's music and sound design also draw in the viewer.

The mental tug-of-war between the FSB agent and the Writer comes from their conflicting perspectives: when the Writer mentions earlier USSR actions against the Chechen people, the agent replies smugly, "It's 2003. We have democracy now." The agent has an iron-clad view of right and wrong, while the Writer sees gradations and compromises through his conversations with Masha and Kayira.

The play is part of Round House Theatre's initial National Capital New Play Festival, to be joined by another play (the two works will be performed in rep), readings of four other scripts, and panel discussions.

"We Declare You a Terrorist..." runs through May 8, 2022, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda MD. For tickets and information, please call 240-644-1100 or visit

By Tim J. Lord
Directed by Ryan Rilette and Jared Mezzocchi

The Writer: Cody Nickell
FSB Officer: Elliott Bales
Masha: Bekah Zornosa
Kayira: Ava Eisenson