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Alternative Methods

Venue:  The Shop at Fort Fringe

Remaining Shows: Friday, July 16 at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, July 22 at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 24 at 11 a.m.

They say: An Iraqi doctor is detained, suspected of treating an Al-Qaeda operative.  With the clock ticking, interrogators must quickly determine the location of the safe-house.  A newly trained psychologist witnesses severe acts of torture and takes matters into her own hands.

Sophia’s Take: “Anyone who has been tortured remains tortured.”  I’m taking a portion of a quote from Jean Avery, which appears on the back of the ‘Alternative Methods’ program.  One of the most effective and moving choices in this very well written and performed production is that Dr. Mohammed Al- Badrani, or Detainee 19, remains present on stage for so much of the play, once his torture begins.  Whether he is being ‘actively’ tortured or not, for him the experience is endless.

Indeed, Josh Liveright‘s direction always supports playwright Patricia Davis‘ themes with effortless simplicity. The action plays in the rooms on either side of a one-sided monitoring glass, which the interrogators rotate in the same manner that Davis seeks to present all sides of the argument surrounding torture.

Her efforts are very successful. In one scene, psychologist Susan Fulton argues with scientist Robert Wolf, played with great skill by Julie Kline and John Greenleaf, against the reprehensible treatment of Dr. Al-Badrani.  Wolf argues for the valuable lives which Detainee 19’s information could save. The scene is a wonderful articulation of the moral conflict inherent in attempting to parse the value of the lives of the “unknown many” verses one single, actual life. The debate is all the more complex for the fact that Davis draws each of her characters as both corrupted and decent individuals—even Mike Flemming (played by the talented Charlie Kevin), a former CIA agent, now contractor, who “gets results.”

This is Fulton’s journey to follow, though. She goes from hating torture because it’s theoretically and legally wrong, to deeply understanding why it is a crime against humanity. Without giving too much away, Fulton’s motivations and actions are sometimes unclear, which makes puzzling out Davis’ message more intellectually interesting over time than emotionally impactful in the theater.

I’m not sure this is a fault, in the larger sense. If she let us understand and sympathize with Fulton, or let the character understand her self, Davis would sacrifice the power of her larger idea. Fulton comes to realize that all the interrogators, herself included, harbor in their hearts a grotesque curiosity to test the limits of the human will. It’s the very enjoyment of her own power that Fulton is mistaking for feeling like a helpless victim.

The living heart of the play is undoubtedly the dignity of Al-Badrani, the doctor turned detainee, played to perfect pitch by Alok Tewari; and the grief of his wife Rima, played with total emotional commitment by the wonderful Hend Ayoub.  Through them Davis makes her most challenging, and universally relevant point:  how fragile and easy-to-destroy all valuable life is, when those with power in their hands have fundamentally misunderstood what they hold.

See it: If you head to the theatre to consider the complexities of the human condition.

Skip it: If you head to the theatre for its relaxing entertainment value.