The American Wife

Ralph Pezzullo and Stephen Fife
Wishbone Films in association with Park Theatre and Oliver Taheri Productions
Park Theatre

Julia Eringer Credit: Orlando James
Emilio Doorgasingh & Julia Eringer Credit: Orlando James
Eduardo (Vidal Sancho) dressed for dinner Credit: Orlando James

I suspect the writers of The American Wife have spent too much time sitting in the darkened corners of Donald Trump rallies. They have certainly absorbed his paranoid vision of a world where big government abuses human rights, all foreigners are dangerous, some of them ready at any moment to sexually prey on a white woman and journalists take time off from harassing people to wage their own very lethal game with innocent members of the public.

Karen Ruiz (Julia Eringer) is a fine young American who, nine years before the events depicted in this play, made the mistake of marrying Eduardo (Vidal Sancho), a tall, good looking (at least till the FBI got hold of him) football star. They have two lovely children, one of whom we see playing football with him.

They ought to warn the child that playing football is a risky business, because the FBI have noticed that whenever Eduardo plays with his famous team there is a terrorist attack in that same area killing many people. They also have evidence that, several years earlier, Eduardo and Karen made a donation to Palestinian Relief. These are enough for the FBI to make him ‘disappear’ from his office in America. We don’t hear if they ‘disappear’ the rest of the famous football team.

Enter the intrepid and always very earnest journalist Mark Loomis (George Taykor) of Associated Press who seems to have remarkably good knowledge about everything that is going on. He acts as her very earnest guide on her travels to get to her husband. But do remember, Karen, that journalists can’t be trusted.

It appears that in America the authorities can secretly abduct you but they are not allowed to treat you badly in America, so they take you to some foreign land to mistreat you. Eduardo is transported to Afghanistan and then later to the torture chambers of Egypt.

This means that his wife gets into some awful scrapes with foreigners. First, there is Afghanistan where she is sexually assaulted, robbed and abused and finally almost killed by ‘Arabs’, though when the airport guards start to get rough with her she does try the magic words, "I am an American. Don’t hurt me."

Then there is worse treatment in Egypt.

The American Ambassador to Egypt arranges for her to meet Dr.Hassan (Emilio Doorgasinghthe) Egyptian Head of Intelligence who is so intelligent that when Karen says, "I have come a long way to see my husband", he replies with the single word, "why?"

But then maybe he had his mind on other matters as he is quickly offering to let her see her husband on condition she sleeps with Hassan. No surprise there. He is a foreigner.

All the foreigners are either threatening or creepily laughing at her discomfort. Except for Eduardo. But he has no time to threaten or laugh. Well actually, we can’t tell if he is laughing because the guards keep forgetting to take his torture hood off.

However, Eduardo is a very special foreigner who they suggest has married Karen as a cover for his terrorist activities. As if the authorities wouldn’t realise he was still foreign even with an American wife. Anyway, they find evidence that he has been a member of an Islamic State sleeper cell for at least seven years before IS was formed and that shows how dangerous he must be.

The paranoid right wing politics of the play drive the plot in ridiculous directions, but that might still create a good entertainment. Unfortunately it has too many other problems.

The characters are all stereotypes who say the most obvious things in the most banal ways. There is not an imaginative sentence in the entire play. Even the central character, Karen, is little more than the classic B movie damsel in distress, her life put in constant danger by the evil foreigners. I did half expect the Ku Klux Klan to rush in and rescue her.

The writers obviously had a B movie in mind for this play. Scenes are short, ending in sudden ominous noisy music that was giving me a headache. Dialogue is kept to a minimum and everything is geared to action.

There was a moment when I imagined the possibility of this play being something quite different. It was when the audience laughed at the suggested link between Eduardo’s football fixtures and terrorist attacks. It pointed to the way this entire production could have been performed as a cartoon satire on the deranged paranoia of right wing Americans.

Attempting to perform it straight just emphasises how crude, badly written and deeply prejudiced it is. Maybe Fox News and Donald Trump will make it into a campaign advertisement. Theatres should show better judgement and replace it with anything else. The real mystery of this show is why anyone could have imagined it was worth performing at all.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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