nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
April 8, 2006
He is tall, tan, sexy, with a puckish gleam in his eye and a purr in his voice. She is small and slight, pasty-skinned and wary-eyed, and kicks the thoughts out from her mouth like a barnyard animal. He wears a sleek suit, takes pictures with his cellphone, and googles things on the Internet. Her outfit is bright orange and baggy, her matted hair is ponytailed, and her greatest luxury might be the ashed cigarette between her bony fingers. He is a British journalist who will fabricate the photos of a British soldier torturing a bound and hooded Iraqi prisoner. She is an American soldier from West Virginia who has been arrested and will be convicted for actually torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
The English Boy and the American Girl, the two fascinating figures in Peter Morris’s compelling play, Guardians, never meet; it is doubtful that any dialogue between them would convey their similarities in the way that Morris ultimately does in two separate episodic monologues. But what makes this a theatrical event not to be missed is Jason Moore’s hauntingly spare production currently running at the Culture Project, starring Lee Pace and Katherine Moennig, who saturate these already vivid characters with brilliant humanity.
The unnamed young woman is, of course, Lynndie England, perhaps the most notorious (or at least camera-friendly) U.S. Army reservist involved in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal (her commanding officers were cleared of any wrongdoing); the unnamed young man is, on the other hand, a plausible invention—just the kind of person who would have perpetrated the British prison-torture hoax which led to the resignation of The Daily Mirror’s editor (the real culprit is unknown). She speaks to us of the past, describing the events that led to her incarceration, whilst he speaks to us from the present, detailing the events that are leading to his dubious coup.
The press—which we once expected to be our watchdog alerting us to trouble that might happen (think of the names of newspapers alone: The Daily Mirror, The Times, The Herald, The Tribune, The Guardian, etc.)—and the prison guards—whom we once expected to be our protectors from the transgressors responsible for troublous events passed—have repeatedly violated our trust (the former behind the camera and the latter, now, in front). This, in and of itself, is not epiphanic, but Morris’s juxtaposition of these two “guardians” begets a slew of revelations that will fester in your mind for days after.
Moore’s excellent production makes corporeal those revelations. Bathed in, or deprived of, Garin Marschall’s nuanced lighting; lounging around or trapped within Richard Hoover’s chillingly austere set; sleekly sporting or simply surrendered to Michelle R. Phillips’ smartly detailed costumes, Pace and Moennig embody this couple with wit and compassion—two generous performances that illuminate each other. They take turns being the cosmopolitan and the crude, the innocent and the guilty, the haunter and the haunted. And both of them wondering, as we are (or should be): how did they get there, and is this what they really deserve?