You'll watch, but will you really care for 'Someone'?

Theater Review

November 27, 2005|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"There were three bollocks in a cell in Lebanon. An Englishman, an Irishman and an American. Why they were in that cell was anybody's guess."

This is the way the Irishman explains the predicament faced by the three characters in Frank McGuinness' Someone Who'll Watch Over Me.

As a note in the program for Everyman Theatre's production acknowledges, the set-up sounds like an old joke. But the situation these characters find themselves in is no joke. McGuinness, an Irish playwright, based his script partly on real-life hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy. And for the play to be genuinely gripping, the tension felt by the hostages needs to carry over to the audience.

At Everyman, designer Milagros Ponce de Leon's set juts out at us. But the jagged stage floor is ultimately edgier than director Juanita Rockwell's production.

The three hostages -- capably played by Jefferson A. Russell as Adam, an American doctor; Richard Pilcher as Michael, a British professor; and especially Everyman newcomer Aubrey Deeker as Edward, an Irish journalist -- wear chains shackled to their right ankles and attached to the wall. Yet instead of feeling their fears, the futility of their situation and the bond that develops between them, we are merely witnesses to it, almost as if we were watching a psychology experiment through a two-way mirror.

Rockwell has compared the play to Sartre and Beckett, and the sparse set, limited mobility and sense of inertia are reminiscent of the work of those writers. But Someone Who'll Watch Over Me has an immediacy -- sadly, even 13 years after it made its debut -- that should propel it past the abstract realm of Theater of the Absurd.

The most engaging aspects of Everyman's production are the interludes the hostages devise to entertain themselves -- and maintain their sanity. Whether "shooting" imaginary movies, reliving sporting events or composing fictitious letters home, the men use their imaginations to feed their spirit.

In the best cases, they bravely launch themselves into scenarios that would have once seemed anathema or frightening. Deeker's excitable Edward, who was not pleased to find himself sharing a cell with an Englishman, portrays the Queen in Michael's re-enactment of a tennis match at Wimbledon. Later, Edward gets Pilcher's meek Michael to pretend -- joyfully -- to be driving a car, something he never learned to do, or wanted to do, after his wife was killed in a car crash.

The play has some didactic passages. "We are in this together," Michael reminds the other two when they gang up against him. "These guys don't need to tear us apart. We can tear each other apart," Adam protests after Michael and Edward harass each other. But when Adam concludes the same speech by saying, "Will they kill me for oil?," his words have an eerie resonance with the war in Iraq.

The title of McGuinness' play doesn't just refer to one of Edward's favorite songs. The hostages' captors have given them two books -- a Bible and a Quran. At one point, Edward reads from the latter: "Over you there are watchers." In the play, the "watchers" are the terrorists who are holding the hostages captive.

The audience, of course, also qualifies as watchers. And while we can be counted on to be far more merciful and sympathetic, this production rarely moves to the next level, allowing theatergoers to become truly invested in the characters' fates.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

SOMEONE WHO'LL WATCH OVER ME / / Through Dec. 18 / / Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St. / / $18-$28 / / 410-752-2208 or everymantheatre.org

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