March 10, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times
“Hung out to dry” is the phrase that popped into my head regarding the case of Valerie Plame, the CIA covert operative who was outed by a conservative newspaper columnist in 2003. Third in the series of Arena Stage’s “Power Plays”, this cautionary tale focusses on politics and power, and by nature, those that abuse or are abused by the dark forces that control the political climate. Written by Jacqueline E. Lawton, “I write to bear witness”, and ably directed by Daniella Topol, it is set primarily at CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia; Plame and Wilson’s Georgetown home; Amman, Jordan; and various locations in Baghdad, Iraq. The haunting set design of massive grey rotating columns is by Misha Kachman.
The backstory of Plame, who was later outed by conservative news columnist Bob Novak, was well-known. Plame was involved in securing “assets” in the Middle East. One in particular, Dr. Malik Nazari (Ethan Hova), was the nuclear scientist who provided her with raw intelligence on the development of the Iraqis’ nuclear weapons capabilities. She got to him through his niece Leyla (Nora Achrati), a couturière in Georgetown. Plame directed Nazari to gather intel on the Iraqi scientists he worked with, expecting him to lend credibility to the Bush administration’s reasons for mounting the Iraq war. But that’s not how it went down.
The beautiful spy, played compellingly by the equally stunning Hannah Yelland, led a glamorous life among the Washington cognoscenti where she lived with husband Joseph Wilson (Lawrence Redmond), former U. S. Ambassador to Iraq and later an oversharing TV talking head and Senior Director for African Affairs. If you’ll recall, Wilson’s connection to Africa was crucial to an administration pressed for time and making its case for war with Iraq. Sent by the CIA to confirm Saddam Hussein’s efforts to purchase uranium for WMDs, Wilson reported back that no such transaction had ever taken place. He shared this knowledge with his wife. This inconvenient truth – inconvenient for Bush, Powell, Cheney and Rumsfeld who needed to justify the war – was ultimately Wilson’s, and by default, Plame’s, undoing.
Yelland provides us with a credible picture of an agent whose mission was to protect her assets and get at the truth. Taut, compelling and powerful, the play confronts the realities of gathering the sort of intelligence that rubberstamps what those in a position of deciding the direction of our country’s military, want to hear. Aakhu Tuahnera Freeman portrays Plame’s bloodless boss, a woman who turns on Plame colluding with then CIA Director George Tenet force Plame out and scuttle her intel.
Through April 9th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets and information visit www.ArenaStage.org or call 202 488-3300.