The American Wife* (Park Theatre)

Posted: September 10, 2016 in Theatre

julia-eringer-in-the-american-wife-park-theatre-photo-by-orlando-james-2-e1473501775453This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

It was reported recently that, on a 10-year average, the number of United States residents killed annually by Jihadists is nine, while those who die as a result of being shot by another American is over 11,000. Even so, in a country still traumatised by the events of 2001, paranoia over terrorism is rife, fuelled further by television series such as Homeland. This new play by Stephen Fife and Ralph Pezzullo, getting its World Premiere here, jumps on that bandwagon.

Eddie (Vidal Sancho), his wife Karen (Julia Eringer) and their two children seem to have an idyllic lifestyle and we first see them packing for a move from San Diego to Phoenix. He is a college Soccer coach, but, suddenly, he disappears. A knock comes on the door, Karen answers and the exchange goes: “It’s about your husband”; “Eddie?” but not only does this devoted wife remember her husband’s name, she vows to clear it of all the accusations that she learns are being made against him.

Poor Eddie had hurt his back while playing for Real Madrid and then, after a transfer to Valencia, it seems that terrorist incidents coincided with away matches and Eddie’s involvement could have merited far worse than a red card. Karen refuses to believe any of it and, aided by a journalist (George Taylor), she sets off to find Eddie in Afghanistan and then Egypt, countries where it appears as if the entire populations are made up of thugs. “Torture! Don’t say that word!” she demands, but, she can always fall back on words to the effect of “you can’t do this, I’m an American” and she often does.

So who does Karen believe and, among the duplicitous bunch that she encounters, is there anyone that she can trust? The actors throw a great deal into the thankless task of delivering their stilted dialogue, but they are given no chance to get under the skin of their characters. As a result, if the writers can just about make the absurdities of the story believable, they fall at the much higher hurdle of making us care.

The play is entirely plot-driven and the production, directed by James Kemp, moves at a fair pace on an almost bare stage, with just two screens and minimum props. However, Kemp is complicit in fostering a sense that this is a script that desperately wants to be a screenplay (hopefully an early draft of one). Just as in a film thriller, nerve-jangling music is played between scenes, always missing the essential point that theatre has to be made to work on its own terms and not by pretending that it is something else.

Cliché follows cliché and one character stereotype follows another. The play is void of any intentional humour, but it still comes as a surprise that it is not until mid-way through the second act that giggles start to ripple around the audience. Overall, it feels reasonable to conclude that the sole purpose of this play is to reinforce exaggerated fears and prejudices surrounding terrorism. Both as a suspense thriller and as a meaningful commentary on our troubled times, it simply fails to detonate.

Performance date: 9 September 2016

Photo: Orlando James


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