Thursday, November 20, 2014

Asymmetric: Secrets and Lies

"Which, did no one anywhere on the R and D chain bring up how stupid it is to call a drone 'Icarus'?"

Shifting tone between humor and the serious business of international espionage, Mac Rogers's Asymmetric isn't always sure what it wants to be (serious spy thriller, bumbling spy caper, comedy) but zippy dialogue and the exciting challenge of  mounting a spy thriller on stage makes this a good introduction to this ever more ambitious theater company, Gideon Productions.

Photo by  Travis McHale
Josh (Sean Williams) is called upon by his former employer, the CIA, to come out of his forced retirement (and the alcoholic binge that sent him there) and help on a case.  His former mentee, Zach (Seth Shelden) now runs the division Josh created. Josh's task, should he choose to accept it, is to interrogate his ex-wife, legendary operative Sunny Black (Kate Middleton) over state secrets she has sold.  Josh has little time to get the intelligence out of Sunny or else another CIA operative, Ford (Rob Maitner), is going to continue to torture her. 

The play is packed full of interesting characters who have a lot of baggage with each other.  With any story about spies the question is always who is being honest and who is playing who. But oddly the strongest element was the comedy rather than the tension of the cat-and-mouse games being played. The ensemble overall was more confident in the comedy and they made it very funny--particularly Shelden and Maitner.  The play is like a spiritual cousin to Grosse Pointe Blank--where emotion, death, and black comedy are intended to live side-by-side in harmony.  But the actors did not feel as committed to the spy world they were trying to create.

The parts of the story addressing politics, spy culture, and drone warfare come across as a McGuffin in the face of the personal dynamics between ex-husband and ex-wife which would be fine if I had felt the connection between the couple.  I was never convinced Sean Williams believed what he was saying.  It was hard to see the spark of the man that he had been before his professional and personal life fell apart and as he returns to his old life of an interrogator it was imperative that we see some of that old lion come back.  And if we're to get swept up in the chase, the mystery, and the emotion of the play, we needed to be on board with Williams's Josh.  Middleton shifted well between the spy-speak and her love and compassion for her ex.  I liked Shelden's bug-eyed, in-above-his-head-ness and Maitner's glee in his sadistic character.

It's a creative use of space and limited budget to attempt a spy thriller on stage but I wish director Jordana Williams had found a way to dial-up the pressure.  Even though the actors are rattling things off quickly, certain moments of intersection should have resonated more.  In the end the laughs were its strength (and it's a pleasant endeavor) even if we were supposed to leave feeling something more than that.      




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