Less convincing, if not necessarily less cogent, Ken Prestininzi’s As American As brings our current war home—quite literally home—to the doorstep (and the windowless downstairs) of a Michigan couple whose son Tommy has somehow run afoul of an Agency With Initials. The apple pie implicit in the title never gets quite its moment center stage, but let’s just say Mom (Deborah Kirby) figures prominently in the Orwellian madness.
Orwellian? How else to describe what ensues when agents Frank (Daniel Gavigan) and Frank (Colin Smith) turn up in Dearborn, bringing news that public pressure has shut down their overseas “black sites” and that for Tommy’s own sake, Mom and Dad (Gerald Browning) might want to make their finished basement available for a little enhanced interrogation. After an hallucinatory little prologue involving a bedtime story (The Red Balloon, not insignificantly), the action proper starts with the question of our times: “Is your son a Muslim?”
From there it’s off to the races, with the Franks fast-talking over each other (mustn’t let your interviewees find their balance, right?), paging through an intimidating-looking dossier (complete with transcripts of years-old conversations), and hyperventilating now and again when anyone dares to suggest that they might not be living up to the better angels of their nation’s nature. And by the time they get to the assertion that “Without prejudice, our borders are unprotected,” we’re moving briskly in the direction of Grade-A Newspeak and first-rate Doublethink.
Tommy, it will transpire, has a liberal-minded outlook (and a Persian boyfriend), so of course he’s probably gone wrong, right? Or was it a setup—or a case of mixed signals through those earpieces the Franks keep talking into? The answers will become clear eventually, as will the actual identity of the hooded man down in the rumpus room the Franks keep beating.
It all plays out much as you might expect, with Mom giving the cold shoulder to the family of the missing Persian boyfriend and the Franks eventually collecting the information they need to keep themselves in their agency’s good graces—though not from the guy they’ve been torturing, oddly enough.
If it doesn’t play out as quickly as you might like—it takes a good 35 minutes for Prestininzi to get to the story’s pivotal setup moment, and there’s plenty of padding in the show’s runtime—the play is still a wittily structured, nicely acerbic indictment of a complicit electorate.
And if there’s a certain undercooked quality about Kirby’s performance in that pivotal maternal role, the point comes through pretty clearly: If in the pursuit of security we scorch the earth here in the homeland, the terrorists don’t even need to win.