The American Wife capitalises on an opportunity to expose some concerning shortcomings in the American criminal justice system, and takes care to explain to a British theatre audience what is going on to Eduardo Ruiz (Vidal Sancho), and why, even if the expounding of background details of relevant legislation comes across as artificial. However, there is a somewhat unnatural civility between ‘Eddie’, as he is known to friends and family, and his wife Karen (Julia Eringer), and in a later scene, it cannot go unnoticed that there is an iciness in their conversation, even before Karen becomes aware of the full extent of the body of evidence intelligence services have amassed. I found it difficult to determine why this was.
In fact, so much in this show is difficult to determine that it is plausible to end up in a state of pseudo-paranoia, and not trust anything anyone says. Poor Karen is left putting her trust in either a lawyer, who makes such a brief appearance that the role is not specified in the cast list, or a journalist, Mark Loomis (George Taylor). I could not quite place Eddie’s accent, which hints at having lived in the United States for some time but remained distinctly ‘other’. In the end, the plot makes everything clear with regard to his background, and whether this was by default or by design, I thought it rather skilful to have an ambiguity that is eventually resolved.
Unfortunately, this production does little, if anything, to counter the idea being propounded in some quarters that all people in the Middle East are obtuse, tersely mannered and completely tactless. There are simply too many caricature stereotypes. But whether American or not, all characters, save for schoolgirl Taylor (either Lucia Henry Peragine or Sascha Petrou: the programme does not, alas, display cast headshots), hold their cards so close to their chests that empathy for anyone is at a minimum. Character development is also stilted.
The final scenes took me by surprise, and I utterly failed to predict accurately the ultimate outcome, though the play’s ending is, with hindsight, more pragmatic than mine. A very forceful, physically and psychologically, end of Act One cliffhanger sent the audience into the interval with a ready-made talking point or two, as did the very annoying music used for scene changes, which to my mind hindered enjoyment of a mostly engrossing narrative. Frankly, the music made the scenes come across as a series of items in a television news broadcast rather than a play.
I don’t think anyone who has a view on United States counter-terrorism policy will shift their position as a result of seeing this play. There are arguments to be made on both sides, and the script is, at least, balanced enough to consider both the personal implications for Karen and her immediate family, and the wider potential consequences for the general population of the USA. But the play is, in the end, a victim of its own success, so good at distancing and creating an aura of reserved stiffness, that my ‘exit poll’ feeling straight after curtain call was simply, “So what?”. Someone did something against the law, and the law did something to that someone in return. That’s all.
Of the nine-strong cast, Mitchell Mullen as Sam Roberts and Emilio Doorgasingh as Dr Hassan stood out for me. The former very much embodied the statesmanship of an ambassador convincingly, and the latter was both amusing and possessed a larger-than- life stage presence. The play is a determined attempt at exposing injustice, and if the characters were allowed to open up a bit more, it could have been so much more engaging.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Wishbone Films in association with Park Theatre and Oliver Taheri Productions present the World Premiere
The American Wife
by Stephen Fife and Ralph Pezzullo
Karen Ruiz – Julia Eringer
Eduardo Ruiz – Vidal Sancho
Mark Loomis – George Taylor
Dr Hassan – Emilio Doorgasingh
Sam Roberts – Mitchell Mullen
Amanda Bradley – Anne Wittman
Ahmed – Sanee Raval
Mertin – Sophie Angelson
Taylor – Lucia Henry Peragine
Taylor – Sascha Petrou
Director – James Kemp
Producer – Julia Eringer For Wishbone Films
Producer/General Manager – Oliver Taheri Productions
Set And Costume Designer – Zahra Mansouri
Lighting Designer – Max Blackman
Sound Designer – Chris Bartholomew
Dialect Coach – Kay Welch
Children’s Acting Coach – Rebecca Crookshank
Fight Choreographer – Sophie Angelson
Casting Director – Gaby Kestler
Production Manager – Dan Miller
Company Stage Manager – Megan Doherty
Stage Manager – Joshua Bayles
Plays until: 1st Oct 2016