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Kudos to whoever cast Rachel Gardner, with her strong-featured, wide-eyed face and her clarion voice, as Grace, the torture survivor of the Charter Theatre’s drama Watching Left. An actress who projects frailty would have been impossible to watch as the difficult, sometimes unlikable Grace. It has been some years since Grace’s abduction and torture—hard to say how many, because the play treats time as a Möbius strip, bending back on itself to bring seemingly separate events into proximity. Sometime after her return home (we aren’t told much about her kidnapping or release), Grace takes a job in a watch shop and also takes a lover, Kay (the effusive Kerrie Brown). But she’s barely holding it together, alternately demanding money from her father (Jim Brady) and brother, Paul (Michael Skinner), and ignoring them altogether. Keith Bridges’ play examines mainly this chaotic present, in which her brother says that the Grace he sees now “just isn’t her.” Paul provides limited narration, but we’re largely in Grace’s head. And although we’re let in on some of her memories of her ordeal—which are triggered by innocent words uttered by the people around her—we don’t really understand her. (The flashback scenes of torture, presented in near-darkness, are evocative and mercifully brief.) Watching Left is a worthy and carefully prepared project, some six years in the making: Bridges was inspired by an NPR interview with former Central American hostage Sister Dianna Ortiz, and the company has met with members of the Torture Abolition & Survivors Support Coalition. Bridges and director Richard Washer consistently choose taste and realism over exploitation and melodrama. But in paying respect to survivors, Watching Left sometimes loses sight of its audience. It’s easy to feel more frustration than compassion toward Grace, and when the play ends, it just stops. Still, the flow is admirable—actors, all but Gardner playing dual roles, move seamlessly in and out of the off-white room, back and forth in time, and between their various characters; Chris Stezin’s set, in which walls, floor, and furniture are swathed with brown-streaked, off-white bandages, is suitably evocative of psychic damage; and the performances are of the usual Charter quality, each character an individual you want to know better. When theater fails the production, that humanity takes up the slack. —Pamela Murray Winters