To borrow an absurd expression, if you’re being racially profiled, you might as well sit back and enjoy it. Yussef El Guindi’s Back of the Throat begins abruptly as two investigators search an obliging Khaled’s (Nate Beal) inner-city apartment after a terrorist act by Asfoor (William Razavi). The scene is fast-paced and inconsequential, and Khaled’s trust is implausible for anyone living under the Patriot Act, much less an Arab-American. Throat was first performed in 2005, and its main character would not have seen enough now-lukewarm plots with similar premises — say, Rendition starring Reese Witherspoon — to be more suspicious than he is. Well, Khaled, it’s 2007, and you’re in a tight spot.
Through a series of betrayals and assumptions, officers Carl (Rick Frederick) and Bartlett (David Connelly) pinpoint Khaled as Asfoor’s acquaintance. Frederick and Connelly do well to resist caricature as Bush’s henchmen and instead show us that even-keeled agents are more insidious than torch-bearing lynch mobs. At once symbols of the Patriot Act and victims of its hypocrisy, Connelly and Frederick’s characters show surprising humanity and ruthlessness, leaving us ultimately repulsed and dumbfounded.
I would hardly call Back of the Throat a dark comedy, as AtticRep does, even though the script offers gems of humor — some had the audience roaring, others made us feel ashamed for laughing during a serious play. But El Guindi lets us catch our breath in these reprieves and continue to be there, to keep processing. As the situation turns decidedly dire, director Roberto Prestigiacomo takes the action out of the imaginary and into our laps. If you aren’t involved after realizing you and Khaled have the same futon, you certainly are once Bartlett takes over the Attic theater’s intimate space, forcing Khaled’s physical submission, and ours.
Just as Bart and Carl control our physical space, three female characters exert an eerie power over truth granted them by their sexuality. During Carl’s visit to Khaled’s ex-girlfriend, a post-bubble-bath Beth asks him to turn around while she undresses. I groaned at the indulgent cliché, but if we view the women as spurious informants, not as witnesses, the stakes are higher and more disgusting. (Renee Garvens plays these roles so convincingly I believed there were at least two actresses, which says much for her or very little for me.)
Khaled reaches a point of no return. Beal’s appeal to us is witty and authentic, and his shift from a nominal citizen to an alien without rights is heartbreaking. He is faceless for the second half of the one-act play, and Prestigiacomo brings Abu Ghraib to our living room in a startling tableau that forces us to confront what this play is really about. We’re seduced into understanding (dare I say sympathizing with?) Asfoor with Razavi’s chilling soliloquy. Then, after a beautifully sparse and ambiguous ending, we’re left haunted and stumbling out of the dark.
After the show, a young girl in the lobby said, “I just want to know if he did it.” Well, lassie, you pretty much missed the point, but your reaction speaks to a larger problem — one this play alone won’t fix. As part of Trinity University’s Difficult Dialogues program, AtticRep is exercising our capacity to see gray instead of black and white, to look past inarguable injustices and take real stands. Back of the Throat is a pivotal production for San Antonio (if anything, to apologize for Rendition’s simplifications). Most importantly, Back of the Throat shows us harsh realities, and keeps us grounded long enough to do something about them. •
Back of the Throat
8 pm Dec 13-15
$8 Trinity students; $12 seniors, military, students;
Trinity University Stieren Theater
One Trinity Place