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Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me – Port City Playhouse

Jordan Wright
April 30, 2012
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

David James plays Adam (the American), Matthew Randall plays Edward (the Irishman) and John Shackleford plays Michael (the Englishman) - photo credit to Mike deBlois

David James plays Adam (the American), Matthew Randall plays Edward (the Irishman) and John Shackleford plays Michael (the Englishman) - photo credit to Mike deBlois

There’s an inner peace that washes over your soul when you are immersed in a drama so powerful, so exquisitely acted and so heart wrenching, that you want to share the earthmoving experience with all your fellow theatre-goers.  Luckily in this space I can.  The only caveat is to make haste since Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me runs just one more weekend.

In a drama punctuated with moments of lighthearted gallows humor and male bonding, three men are imprisoned in a tiny cell in Beirut.   The hostages, Edward, an Irish journalist; Adam, an American doctor; and Michael, an English teacher from Britain are shackled and chained to a communal wall for an indeterminate sentence.

Most of us remember this story from news reports filled with harrowing tales of torture and execution at the hand of self-described Islamic Jihadists.  Playwright Frank McGuiness loosely bases his Drama Critics Circle award winning play on the real lives of Brian Keenan, John McCarthy and Terry Anderson during the time they were held hostage in Lebanon in 1985 and 1986.  McGuiness extrapolated Keenan’s experiences from lengthy discussions about his time in captivity, and used them to form the backbone of the drama.  In order to prepare the actors before rehearsal started, Director Rosemary Hartman gave each of them Keenan’s unflinchingly honest recounting, Evil Cradling, wherein Keenan poses the question, ”Just as I was chained in darkness for almost five years, my captors were chained to their guns in a profound darkness I could see into.  Tell me now, who is the prisoner here?”

The piece opens with slo-mo news footage of the war in Lebanon during the decade between 1982 and 1992 when between 130,000-200,000 people were killed and more than 1 million were wounded.  In stark contrast to the lulling strains of classical music the images are projected against the set’s prison walls.  We don’t hear the bullets and bombs, but we bear witness to the brutal gunfights and the total destruction of cities.  It was a horrendous period when random kidnappings were the order of the day and the ignominy of America and its allies was the incomprehensible goal.  As the lights come up Ella Fitzgerald’s evocative rendition of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me plays in the background and we’re greeted by a set design by Frank Pasqualino that is so end-of-the-world grim that one instantly senses the prisoners’ isolation.

Someone who'll watch - Matthew Randall, John Shackleford - photo credit to Mike deBlois.

Someone who'll watch - Matthew Randall, John Shackleford - photo credit to Mike deBlois.

David James plays Adam (the American), Matthew Randall plays Edward (the Irishman) and John Shackleford plays Michael (the Englishman) - photo credit to Mike deBlois

David James plays Adam (the American), Matthew Randall plays Edward (the Irishman) and John Shackleford plays Michael (the Englishman) - photo credit to Mike deBlois

During their brutal confinement the hostages probe one another’s psyches and explore their innermost lives, trying to keep their spirits up until their hoped-for rescue.  Their methods in the face of such adversity are both inspired and inspiring.  One can’t help but wonder what diversions we would employ ourselves under the same dire circumstances.

The play’s moods swing back and forth like a pendulum with lightning quick transitions from misery to comedy as the men regale each other with humerous tales designed to relieve the tedium, promising each other not to let the guards hear them cry.  Adam, played by David James, is afraid of going mad.  Clutching a bible for support, he is haunted by memories of his life as an only son in a house full of foster children.  “Will they kill me for oil?” he wonders of the guards.  Matthew Randall plays Edward who claims “foreplay” was invented by the Irish.  “We call it drink!” he jokes as he fake-bartends martinis.  Together they reenact old films, perform childhood vignettes and fake-broadcast horse races to pass the time until one night Michael, played by John Shackelford, is delivered comatose into their shared cell and their awkward camaraderie is rearranged.  Though initially regarded as an intruder, Michael, the stoic, becomes a stabilizing factor to the gradually declining spirits of the other two.

With this latest production Port City Playhouse continues to impress, especially when tackling bold dramatic themes.  In Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me superlatives go to the entire ensemble whose outstanding performances are nothing short of brilliant.  Special mention goes to Lighting Designer, Julie Anne Watko, who does a fine job creating and handling 100 lighting changes and video montages, as well as Accent Coach, Carol Strachan, who has set the authenticity bar higher than ever.

Poignant, riveting and perfectly cast.  Highly recommended.

At Port City Playhouse.  Final performances May 4th and 5th at 8pm with an additional May 5th matinee at 2pm at The Lab Studio Theatre at Convergence, 1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302.  For tickets and information visit www.portcityplayhouse.com.

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