Back of the Throat
By Yussef El Guindi. Dir. Stuart Carden. With Kareem Bandealy, Sean Sinitsky, Tom Hickey. Silk Road Theatre Project.
Yussef El Guindi’s pitch-black exploration of the domestic war on terror opens, like Kafka’s Trial, with an Arab-American man confronted in his home by investigators whose strained politeness barely covers an underlying menace. The first half of the play is bitterly funny, an apt and chilling depiction of the corporate-minded police state: Writer Khaled (Bandealy), accused of shadowy links to the perpetrators of a recent, unspecified Tragic Event, may not have access to a lawyer, but he’s more than welcome to fill out an evaluation form about his interrogation.
That evaluation is unlikely to be favorable, as the demeanor of his unwelcome guests progresses from bland niceties to the systematic application of physical distress. As the lead investigator, Sinitsky modulates the various phases of the interrogation like a seasoned conductor, all along mumbling half-apologies and exculpations. Bandealy convincingly conveys Khaled’s growing realization that his American citizenship may count for little under the new dispensation.
To his credit, El Guindi complicates the picture as the play goes on; deplorable as their methods may be, the investigators have some grounds for taking a closer look at Khaled. But as the play’s lens widens, and the investigation extends to Khaled’s associates, Throat loses its pungent edge and the writing slackens. Airy ruminations on the unknowable motivations of terrorists are followed by an interminable interview with a dancer at the strip club frequented by Khaled. But while it doesn’t quite deliver on its audacious promise, Throat is still a dramatic, thought-provoking exploration of issues that often go strangely untouched by other well-intentioned companies.—John Beer