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By Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
46 Walker St.
Box office: (866) 811-4111


Lidless, the professional debut of playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, might be described as an All My Sons for the War on Terrorism era. No defective airplane parts here, but the work is a comparably hard-hitting allegory about fateful moral compromise by an otherwise upright and respectable American trying to benefit personally from a war. In fact, it veers toward the sentimental and hortatory in the manner of Arthur Miller, though one quickly forgives it for that (as with Miller) because the characters are so appealing and seductively honest and the story is so sharp and compelling. An interrogator at Guantanamo—a woman trying to use the army to climb out of a social rut—receives an intelligence memo in 2004 suggesting that the best way to break a pious Muslim prisoner is via sexually charged “invasion” of his personal space. She acts on this hint a bit too enthusiastically, and fifteen years later the dying victim tracks her down and confronts her. That’s the setup.

What keeps the obvious contrivances of the story from irritating is the way Cowhig sensitively examines the psychological comeuppance of the initiating act of torture, teasing out its ramifications further than you think they will go, for the perpetrator, the victim, and also for both their families. The soldier’s husband and adolescent daughter as well as the victim’s grown daughter become essential players in surprising ways. There are still moments of fleeting platitude when the ramifications are a bit too bluntly explained, but Cowhig keeps such a firm hand on the action’s emotional modulation that it nevertheless flies along at a terrific clip. The five-member cast performs all the juicy roles with great discernment and conviction, and director Tea Alagic keeps the action gripping. Special kudos to set designer Scott Bradley for the inspiration of that single swath of out-of-the-way red paint on a plain, dirty white set.



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