May 4, 2006
By Venus Zarris
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin
Playwright Yussef El Guindi's heart-pounding, as well as entertaining, truly patriotic tour de force illustrates this quote with a vivid depiction of the alarming reality of our times. If there is any doubt in your mind that the Patriot Act might not be a heavy handed invasion of our constitutional rights, Back of the Throat is the jolt of frightening certainty needed to eliminate that doubt by clarifying our dangerous reality. Not dangerous because of the external threat of terrorists, but dangerous because of the ravaging of our civil liberties this current administration has implemented under the guise of homeland security.
Silk Road Theater Project produces its most timely and critically important work to date with this disturbing portrait of an Arab American's perilous visit by zealous FBI agents. The play opens as Khalid's apartment is being picked apart by two unexpected officials. Fully cooperative at first, Khalid is initially operating on the incorrect assumption that there are protections in place to assure his right to due process and "innocent until proven guilty" guarantee as an American citizen. This naïve notion quickly vanishes as he finds himself in the nightmarish position of being brutalized in his own home. And if you think that this is a far-fetched dramatization, you need only consult the ACLU to find that this not only happens - some 1,400 people have been detained - but also has happened in situations even more egregious than depicted in this disturbing story.
El Guindi crafts his play with a welcome dose of humor that starts off casual but escalates to uncomfortable. We often opt to laugh rather than gasp.
Director Stuart Carden compiles a fantastic ensemble to deliver a tense pressure cooker. The dramatic build is subtle at first but then explodes. The dialogue is excellent, and the characters are cleverly captivating. This is as much a thriller as it is a dark comedy as it is a social and political polemic, and Carden's gifted picture perfect cast creates every element with deceptive ease. Elaine Robinson especially dazzles with a performance of three characters that are so distinctively individual, you find it amazing that there is only one woman on the cast list.
The show is as technically impressive as it is masterfully executed. The stage is perfectly set with a first-rate design team. This show is as polished as the shoes of a fledgling Federal Agent.
Silk Road artistic director Jamil Khoury and executive director Malik Gillani offer up another profoundly thought-provoking production. They have shown insight and courage in the past with their evocative and exceptional work, but this time they set themselves aside with perhaps the most politically imperative work currently on display in the city. Their vision and dedication are matched by their ability to produce work of impeccable quality, serving their conviction to tell stories that resonate directly to our country's core.
Back of the Throat is a must-see for anyone who loves good theatre and who cares about the question, Is this really still the land of the free?