The Dershowitz Protocol
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 14, 2008
Robert Fothergill addresses the ethical dilemma of sacrificing one life to save many in The Dershowitz Protocol, a play based on the theory presented in Why Terrorism Works, a book by Alan Dershowitz, an attorney and leading American civil rights activist. As one of 13 FringeHIGH festival offerings (plays designed to introduce young adults to thought-provoking theatre), the drama furthers discussion where there are no easy answers.
The Dershowitz Protocol places three people in an office where, for the first time under legal warrant, a suspected terrorist, journalist Iqbal Aziz, will be "rigorously interrogated" to gain information on the location of an imminent attack. Captain Jack McCall, an arrogant, over-zealous interrogator, is the only one privy to evidence that implicates the prisoner; Dr. Randall Watkin, a bureaucratic academic, is there to administer the various levels of electric shock. To qualify for this role, he himself has received the treatments. The third is Jane Cosentino, an assistant in the Justice Department whose presence assures that the interrogation will follow the proper protocol—a written procedure to which she was a contributing author.
Anthony Frisina's directorial vision wisely places the prisoner out of sight, except when a flickering light dimly illuminates his convulsing torso during shock treatments. And, he does a fine job of magnifying provocative questions raised by Fothergill's drama: If you could save thousands of people from a nuclear attack by torturing or even killing just one, would you do it? Is it preferable for torture to be "carried out under legal warrant, subject to safeguards and accountability" through written rules or allow those who use it to act freely in their unbridled brutality? What would such rules say about America and its values? What is the role of the public?
In the play, Fothergill sets up parameters. It is clear that a warrant or official nod has been issued for the interrogation to take place. All communication with the prisoner is through an intercom; and, the interrogation is broken up into segments that need to be re-authorized by both Watkins and Cosentino every ten minutes.
Fothergill's dialog is particularly effective when all three administrators, in conflict, talk over one another. Richard St. George as the Captain and interrogator is frighteningly impetuous as he assaults Iqbal with profanities, accusations, and suggestive details. He provides a discomfiting eagerness in his orders for Watkin to push the electric shock button. Played by Kevin Gaudin, Watkin is also alarming in his robotic responses to the Captain's demands. Whether it's seven seconds of electric shock or 30 seconds, Level 1 or Level 5, Watkin pushes the button without a trace of emotion, knowing exactly how it will feel. The excellent Ken Maharaj never overplays the role of Iqbal, and his fear and anguish are both convincing. Kate Geller travels a difficult psychological journey from competent, hard-nosed attorney to reluctant participant in her role as Jane. She gives the play its conscience when her character admits, "We have done something unspeakable."
Hilary Noxon designed a thoughtful, subtle set, using a wall map as a scrim through which we see the prisoner. Christopher Chambers outdoes himself with lighting, opening the play with the Captain seen from behind in dramatic shadow, and providing no more than a glimpse of the tortured prisoner—the rest is left to the audience's active imagination. Steve McIntosh does equally well with sound, and appropriate costumes were designed by Samuel Ellingson.
Talking about man's inhumanity to man has never been more timely. The Dershowitz Protocol gets the topic out there where everyone can and should participate in the discussion.