The Guardian's Project
nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 19, 2010
It's funny how imaginary times and places are, in the end, so much like our own. Of course, that is the point of allegorical tales that seek to portray a particular human experience as one that is far more universal—and that is what Thomas D. Praino is attempting with The Guardian's Project, now playing at FringeNYC: in times of conflict, there is no easy distinction between the oppressors and the oppressed, between the terrorists and the liberators.
The problem with allegory, though, is making it work as more than a disguise for a situation we know well. That's where The Guardian's Project comes up short. There is little in the ideas this show presents that a viewer who has been following more real instances of terrorists and/or liberators over the last ten-odd years would not likely find cliched.
We open on a young father watching his son play soccer. The father seems protective of his son's future and we soon see why as the father is interrogated by an investigator from the Blue Scarves. The Blue Scarves, we learn, have taken over governmental power from the Yellow Scarves and now the Blue Scarves threaten the Yellow's people and land. Only, the Yellow Scarves have a protector, an insurgent who happens to set off bombs in important Blue Scarf areas. He is known as The Guardian and the investigator is intent on stopping him. The play leads us to a mountain retreat, an interrogation room, and back up the mountain as the question of "who is the hero here?" is debated. Of course, the answer is no one...
Here's where I would normally talk about specific actors and designers, but there wasn't a program available at the showing I attended. My apologies to the work of everyone I, therefore, cannot mention by name. The FringeNYC website does list Praino as the show's director as well and, while his inclination is to keep things simple in the empty black box, overall things seemed tentative. There is one scene in particular where the investigator essentially water-boards the man he suspects of being The Guardian. In theory, this could have been the most visceral, haunting scene of the show, except that rather than really pushing the moment—and getting the actors to make it as affecting as possible—we get an awkward scene where one character pours water over the head of the other from what looks like a Poland Spring bottle to mild sputtering and protestation. Keeping things simple for the purposes of the festival environment is one thing, but it should not be at the expense of giving the audience exciting moments in your production.
In the end, The Guardian's Project was just not a successful execution of an idea that does have some merit. Too often it embraced cliche and overwrought metaphorical discourse rather than trying to tease something original, active, and vibrant from a familiar debate.