Presented by Bad Habit Productions
by Frank McGuinness
Directed by A. Nora Long
Review by Noe Kamelamela
(Boston) In the second show of their seventh season, called Ambition & Sacrifice, Bad Habit Productions continues to create theatre in small spaces that convey big ideas. At a grueling two hours without intermission in a studio theatre, this production feels at times like a test of endurance for the audience and the three person ensemble.
Beautiful moments of human joy peeked through the dark show and reactions from the audience ranged from tears to guffaws. The premise of Frank McGuiness’ play seems like the beginning to a highly inappropriate joke designed for uncomfortable, politically incorrect chuckles at a comedy show. An American, an Irishman and a Brit are kidnapped and thrown in a basement. The plot, inspired from the Lebanon hostage crisis of the 1980s, focuses heavily on the three characters and their shifting relationships.
It would be hard to mention the actors without praising their ensemble work: pacing at times did drag, but overall, every moment an actor was visible, was a moment in which the actor was present. Greg Balla maintained an enchanting accent as Edward, the Irishman, and manipulated his body to convey a wide range of emotions. As Adam the American, Sheldon Brown conveyed a heroism that’s mostly bluff. Rounding it all out was Jeff Mahoney, whose Brit recalls the doddering and stoic academic type suitable to Cambridge (the UK, not the US).
Initially, the conversations of the victims feel like conversations you would yourself take part in, but only when passing through: chatting to a seatmate on an airplane because your plane is stuck on a runway, nervously joking on the Red Line when your train is stuck in the dark in a tunnel or talking idly about bus times at a station while everyone looks between their watch and where the bus should be. You assert that you are who you are, and that another person is who they are, you establish boundaries, and in no way do you admit to a fear that you’ll all be stuck there forever. Or worse, you’ll never get out alive.
Against a backdrop of nigh constant dread, reinforced by the set, costumes, realistic makeup and well-chosen sound effects, the three rail against their circumstances, each other and the world at large to keep themselves as sane and whole as possible. The minimalist set design was confined to give even the audience claustrophobia, while presenting elements that bolstered the action. The physical chains and their presence provided an added layer of realism. When the characters finally united as a motley community, the play became a dark buddy comedy arising from a tragedy. Its a reminder that individuals in communities created by chance can be passionate advocates for each other. At least, enough to encourage survival.
Bad Habit Productions is, in addition to producing this show, also running Paint Me a Picture, a free set of performances specifically for young children, also at the BCA on November 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 2pm. They will continue their seventh season with Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls in April.