October 6, 2017

in Plays

Play (2017)
by Selina Fillinger

Directed by David Miller

Zeitgeist Stage Company
Boston Center for the Arts
South End, Boston
September 15 – October 7, 2017

With Aina Adler (Claire Fahti), Victor Shopov (Scott Bader), Robert Orzalli (Mark Arenberg), Ashley Risteen (Susie Glenn), David Anderson (Alan Glenn)

Aina Adler as Claire Fahti, Ashley Risteen as Susie Glenn in 'Faceless'

Aina Adler as Claire Fahti
Ashley Risteen as Susie Glenn
in “Faceless”
Photo: Courtesy of Zeitgeist Stage Company

A powerful production of an ingeniously constructed play that pits a young American Muslim prosecutor of French-Iranian extraction against a young American Anglo woman who has fallen in with ISIS online and suddenly identified as Muslim.

Susie Glenn (Ashley Risteen) is eighteen, has recently lost her mother, a policewoman, to violence, and has herself succumbed to a come-on by an ISIS guy online. Taken in, she has converted to Islam, such as it is through Twitter, and has engaged in extensive online dialogue with the mentor-boyfriend whom she has never met. She is discovered by the authorities and is now up on serious charges in an American court.

As destinies, and ironies, would have it, the very macho, foul-mouthed and intense lead prosecutor, Scott Bader (Victor Shopov), bends the bright young Muslim graduate of Harvard Law, Claire Fahti (Aina Adler), to join the team in prosecuting Susie Glenn. Uncomfortable with the arrangement, but bending to the pressures of this shrewd and conniving boss, Claire takes the job and engages in the process of pursuing the case against Susie.

Meanwhile, Mark Arenberg (Robert Orzalli), a smart Jewish lawyer, takes the case on Susie’s side. Susie’s father, Alan Glenn (David Anderson), beside himself with the loss of his wife and now the potential loss of his daughter, rages against the tragic conditions while trying to provide support for the daughter with whom a major rift has opened.

What an interesting and well-crafted play, and what a terrific production of it, this is. Clearly, director David Miller has taken the dramatic bull by the horns and shaped his fine cast to excellent results.

Victor Shopov is in usual superb form as Scott Bader, funny as hell and filled with raunchiness and irritiblity. Serving as his foil and not letting him get an inch is Aina Adler as Claire Fahti. The setup of the two of them as the prosecution team is a great one for providing intensely conflicted banter and a whole lot of not entirely expected laughs. The play takes advantage of their mutually strong wills and their opposed dispositions to create wonderful comic tension that counterposes itself against the deeply tragic scenario unfolding on the other side of the room.

The play is designed as a set of short interleaved scenes with Fahti and Bader going at it on one side and Arenberg, Susie and Alan engaging in far more anguished interchanges on the other end. Occasionally, the two sides meet, as though in court, though there are other interchanges as well. The two woman, garbed in hajibs, pair up center stage from time to time to offer Muslim prayers, both in Arabic and in English. At first, the rapid turning from one side to the other feels disconcerting, but then it seems to settle down into a natural rhythm and becomes quite natural.

All the actors shine in this production, each in his or her own way.

Shopov’s Bader is sharp, strident, classy, annoying and thoroughly entertaining.

Adler’s Fahti is edgy, determined, resolute and holds her own convincingly against Shopov’s Bader.

Ashley Risteen is intense, angular, driven, possessed and entirely captivating as the young Susie Glenn. Her scenes typing emails or texts on the computer in rapid-fire engagement with the unseen ISIS seducer, Reza, are powerful and intoxicating.

As Mark Arenberg, Robert Orzalli is deliberate and solidly compelling. And, as Alan Glenn, Susie’s distraught father, David Anderson is cathartic and volcanic, his cataclysmic overwroughtness vivid and believable.

– BADMan

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