Doing the right thing will always start a war. In a time plagued with controversy, a thought-provoking intensely profound new work comes out of Theater J’s ‘Voices From A Changing Middle East Festival‘ as they collaborate with Georgetown University to mount Boged(Traitor): An Enemy of the People to the stage. Directed by Joseph Megel, this fast-paced high intensity production is Nir Erez and Boaz Gaon’s (translated into English by Gaon) adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Evoking controversial conversation with this production, the company brings an awe-inspiring tale of politics, family and the crusade of truth and justice to the stage in a tightly-packed 110 minutes of continuous drama.
Scenic Designer Robbie Hayes keeps it simple letting the actors speak for themselves; though as the play progresses and the rift in the family grows — the stage does split apart like an earthquake rocking the show at its foundation, reflecting the poison beneath in a symbolic representation of the literal and metaphorical poison that infects the play. Sound Designer Veronica J. Lancaster in conjunction with Lighting Designer Brian S. Allard create the rest of the scene for the audience, grounding them in the reality of this small town in the middle east. Lancaster sets the mood before the audience arrives with modern Israeli rap and hiphop music, later adding the sounds of a war-torn street while aircrafts zoom overhead, indicating the nearby military base. The Design Team as a whole draws you deeply into this intricately crafted space, easily alerting your senses to the conflict of the present situation.
Director Joseph Megel manages to keep the production tight. The scenes move quickly without feeling rushed, the dialogue has a rapid-fire speed without feeling hasty and still managing to be understood, and the scene changes are flawlessly fast. Zipping through them in 15 seconds or less Megel never gives the audience a moment to lose sight of this breakneck drama as it boils to an explosion at its conclusion.
The characters crafted in this production are rich dynamic people that have complex personalities, emotions, and conflicts. Everyone has a reactionary side, bristling against one another causing volts of static drama to erupt between them. It’s an exhilarating play to watch, each of the actors gripping and compelling as they work their way through to a stunning and deeply profound ending.
A turncoat of a character is honed in Yehuda Sharabi (Clark Young). Young’s character is designed to show that all people, even the lowly paper reporters have their price and can be bought in the face of corruption. Starting out as a sparking upstart, with a hint of nerd-like desperation to his portrayal, Young quickly shows his true colors — the yellow and sickly shade of cowardice and greed, presented best during his speech at the council meeting; so thoroughly flip-flopped in his convictions that it makes his character revolting.
Hoffman (Mark Halpern) is a rambunctious reporter for the news station. He is a cutthroat when it comes to the bottom line of a story; angling and marketing to make the news spew drama like The Jerry Springer Show, out to protect the media’s entertainment interests. But just like Yehuda, Halpern’s character is easily swayed to other side; letting his rough and edgy nature be tempered by the cold injustice of bribery and scandal.
Danny Ptem (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) makes a much slower progression to the corrupt side. Starting out as a vehement youth possessed with a thirst for answers of truth and righteousness, when the pressure is placed upon him he eventually caves, as cowardly and shamefully as the reporters; only Ebrahimzadeh’s character uses his position within the military as his excusable scapegoat. His fierce start to the show dwindles with the hope for righteousness and by the end he portrays as meek a character as the others that cower in fear of the truth.
Standing on the strong side of the character divide is Katy Doany (Nadia Mahdi). The doctor’s wife and a Russian intellectual, Mahdi is a deadly combination of fire and ice with her saucy but serious attitude. Her deadpan hints at sarcastic humor are easily dissolved into nerves and paranoid worry when the situation begins to sour but she never loses sight of which side she stands on. And like mother like daughter, Yarden Doany (Blair Bowers) proves the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Bowers takes the fiery side of her mother and the passionate side of her father’s character and blends them into a rebellious revolution. All of the spark and spunk of an incensed youth with none of the experience and all of the naiveté to wash her up in the middle of this conflict, Bowers is electric in her own vein of righteousness.
But where there is justice there is forces of evil working to negate it. Simon Doany (Brian Hemmingsen), the surly demanding political figure with powers to impress, is nothing short of vile. Hemmingsen tempers the characters unctuous personality with fondly nostalgic reminiscence painted with picturesque imagery as he slowly describes happier times of his childhood with his brother. His passionate temper rivals that of his brother Tommy and when they buck heads it’s like watching two bulls lock horns and vie for the position of the alpha male. Hemmingsen presents corruption in its finest form, brutish and ogre-like with a polished sleazy charisma to hide the ugly truth.
Challenging Hemmingsen for portrayal of the most vile character is Sarah Marshall in her portrayal of Moddy Ekstein. Marshall is a compressed little firecracker, sharp and vicious like a viper. Her sickly sweet falsehoods only makes her character that much more appalling as a human being. Marshall is shrewd and when she unites with Hemmingsen to do dirty business, the two of them shroud the dangerous truth without an ounce of compunction between them. Marshall shows a superior mastery of balancing her wicked side and her polite political face in front of the public, making you absolutely loathe her.
Ekstein may be The Devil’s Advocate trying to pit people against one another but Alex Morton (Timothy Hayes Lynch) is Satan incarnate. Ruthless and terrifying when he barks his true intentions and Tommy, Lynch is a fierce force to be reckoned with. With his heavy Russian accent and unnaturally straight and tall stature, Lynch becomes a terrifying master puppeteer in this production; like the devil seated at the throne of evil with Moddy Ekstein as his right hand and Simon Doany as his left.
But through the darkness of evil and corruption a truth will always prevail; even if in prevailing it becomes muddled, hated, and rejected along the way. And in this play that shining beacon of hope and justice falls in the form of Dr. Tommy Doany (Michael Tolaydo). Acting as the compassionate voice of reason trying to set things straight in this crisis, Tolaydo is faced with the challenge of starting out as rational and being forced to evolve into something almost maniacal. A man driven nearly to insanity for his cause; forcing himself to soldier on even in the face of total destruction to let goodness, truth and righteousness triumph over corruption and evil. Tolaydo does an impressive job of portraying all of the complex emotions bound up in such a role; showing a vehement passion in his arguments, sticking to his guns with sharp integrity and powerful conviction. An honest artist who grounds his character in the beliefs of the play without thinking twice; a stunning performance from beginning to end.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People plays through February 3, 2013 at Theater J at The Davis Performing Arts Center’s Gonda Theatre – located at the corner of O Street, NW and 37th Street, NW – on the Georgetown University campus, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 687-2787, or purchase them online.