Back of the Throat
/ by R. Sheth

April 26, 2006
By Louis Weisberg

Silk Road Theatre Project's co-founders, life partners Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani, have impeccable timing. With the recent unsealing of the cockpit voice recorder from Flight 93 and the release of a major motion picture recreating that ill-fated flight, this play completes the picture of horror unleashed on Sept. 11, 2001. It holds up a mirror to a nation whose soul and Constitution have been poisoned by fear.

In the knowing hands of playwright Yussef El Guindi (who also penned Silk Road's hit Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith), post-9/11 America is a place in which guilt and innocence have lost their relevance and everyone has become a terrorist of sorts: the G-men who've been given license to indulge their paranoid imaginations, citizens seeking revenge or an outlet for their anger-even unwitting Arab-Americans who've committed no crimes but whose very presence discomfits those around them.

Khalid (played with humility and visceral fear by Kareem Bandealy) is an Arab-American writer who finds himself undergoing an increasingly bizarre interrogation by two federal agents who show up unexpectedly at his apartment believing he's connected to the terrorist cell of one of the hijackers. Khalid is innocent of terrorist acts, but he has plenty to hide. While his live-in girlfriend was out working to support him so that he could write, he was frequenting strip clubs, meeting women online and masturbating to pornography. The play is shrewdly ambiguous about whether Khalid actually knew the terrorist in question, but there's a chilling scene that demonstrates how the terrorist might have appealed to Khalid's yearnings.

In the end, even the audience becomes a guilty co-conspirator. The play manipulates us to sympathize-against our better judgment and reason-both with the twisted reasoning that guides the Kafka-esque interrogation and the sense of injustice and oppression that motivated the attackers. The play forces us to see how shit-out-of-luck we all would be if forced to prove our innocence.

Under director Stuart Carden's torpedo-like direction, the five-member ensemble is a standout. In addition to Bandealy, Tom Hickey deserves to be singled out for praise as the calculatingly brutal investigator Carl. Elaine Robinson (her real name) is also a standout, creating three vivid and memorable roles in the time it would take most performers to change their costumes.

Scenic designer Lee Keenan shows off the versatility of Silk Road's handsome new performing space and lighting designer Kurt Ottinger deftly adds texture and dimensionality to the space.

This is not a comfortable experience, but it's gripping and worthwhile in a way that few plays manage to achieve.