Used as symbols, characters of 'Saddam' don't quite come to life

May 23, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

If you want to send a message, call Western Union -- so the script-writing axiom goes.

Unfortunately, this advice has not been heeded by Michael Elkin, author of "Saddam," a message-laden anti-war play whose chief distinction appears to be that it is the first script produced about the Persian Gulf war.

In other words, "Saddam" -- conceived and commissioned by Howard Perloff, producer of the Fells Point Cabaret Theatre, where it is making its debut -- is also guilty of the sin of opportunism.

But hey, opportunism is the American way. And "Saddam's" got bigger troubles than that.

The play begins in the Baltimore living room of a personal injury lawyer (Chuck Muckle) who is so addicted to TV coverage of Desert Storm that he has essentially cut himself off from society. The playwright sets the scene by using such untheatrical devices as playing audio tapes of TV news broadcasts and of the cutesy message on the lawyer's answering machine.

Things get a bit more dramatic when one of the TV war correspondents (Steve Grojahn) pops into the lawyer's living room, quickly followed by an Iraqi soldier (Aasif Mandviwala) who defects by climbing out of the TV screen.

In a manner explained solely by references to "The Wizard of Oz," the living room suddenly appears to move to Riyadh -- an event signaled scenically by changing the painted scene outside the picture window.

The room subsequently shifts to Tel Aviv, allowing the playwright to introduce an Israeli character (Mihran Guian) and to conveniently stage a mini-Middle East crisis in the comfort of the lawyer's home.

Near the end of the play, the action shifts again, this time to New York, where a United Nations representative (Laura Sebastian) drops by and attempts -- ineffectually, of course -- to negotiate a truce.

Dramatizing the concept of television bringing war into our living rooms is fairly clever. The problem is that -- despite earnest attempts by most of the cast, especially Mr. Mandviwala -- the characters never come to life. They can't. They're not human, they're symbols -- for countries, for the media and for the United Nations.

The script has odd flashes of humor -- at one point the Iraqi delivers a stand-up comedy routine -- but it never achieves the level of satire, or absurdity, or surrealism.

And incidentally, despite the title, Saddam Hussein doesn't appear on stage; considering the Iraqi president's proclivity for preaching, he'd probably fit right in.

"Saddam" continues at the Fells Point Cabaret Theatre weekends through June 16; call 327-8800.

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