By Paul Pasulka.
Directed by Michael Menendian.
Produced by The Agency Theater Collective.
At Rivendell Theatre, Chicago.
Convoluted script is short on credible plot twists and long on propaganda.
In playwright Paul Pasulka’s underwritten script, Skin for Skin, it is obvious that he is trying to demonize our military as sociopaths and narrow minded bigots. His Skin for Skin is a hard to watch 90 minute drama that is based on thin premises and underdeveloped plots. Since Pasulka’s intent here is to clearly, through extreme over simplification, to paint our military as torturers and sadistic sociopaths who enjoy their work. This was a difficult show to sit through as the exaggeration and comic book evil characters were bent on doing their torture with little or no evidence against their victim.
Skin for Skin opens with the narrow-minded Army Colonel Lewis (Tony St. Clair) hosting a seminar about advanced interrogation techniques (modern torture?) with a an outside contractor Dr. O’Brien (Shariba Rivers). This scene is like the playbook for Guantanamo prison after 911.
Next we meet Ayyub (Steve Silver), an American citizen from Chicago who runs, with his sons, a transportation business hauling supplies for the US Army in Iraq. He is depicted as a good, honest and religious, an honorable man He speaks Arabic and Parsi. He has been effective with his transport company so much that his associate Abdul Walli, an Iraqi, wants to buy him out. One day, Ayyub loses a truck while transportation supplies for the Army. There is not hint or possible motive (from the playwright) to indicate any reason why Ayyub would aid the Al-Qaada except that the playwright needed to have a victim for his vivid dramatization of torture. But the colonel decides that Ayyub was behind the missing stalled truck. That smacks of a Donald Trump morning tweet and is just as believable. From the time that Ayyub is arrested and all his rights and freedom are denied by the obsessed Colonel Lewis, I wanted to scream-out.
Actually, if Ayyub got a contract to supply the Army, as an American, he would need high political clout because those contracts are worth $millions thus he would have been untouchable. Thus, this play is based on an improvable premise.
We see Ayyub being subject to “enhanced interrogation” by the army and we see the civilian contract American psychologist, Dr. O’Brien do her friendly and quite standard psych interview wherein Ayyub speaks about his bringing up in Chicago. The doctor report that Ayyub is a good man to the colonel. But he continues his techniques to get Ayyub to ‘talk.’ We see the physical and psychological torture instilled on Ayyub by two soldiers: the lesbian Sgt. Lindsey (Hannah Tarr) and the empathetic Pvt. Michaels (David Goodloe). There is an irreverent sub-plot about the sexual habits of these enlisted friends of the soldiers that doesn’t serve the play.
This drama, after several upsetting torture scenes, reverts into religious diatribes as the torture has unintended consequences. Ayyub becomes a religious zealot. Pvt. Michaels turns religious (possibly a Muslim?) The symbolism is playwright Pasulka’s feeble and unearned attempt to show that torture can be fought off in the name of God. Ha? A sort of reference to Job from the Old Testament?
Skin for Skin needs to be rethought as it now plays, it is underwritten with no rationale for the actions of its archetype characters. Plot development and motivations are lacking. This play reminds me of Trump-like tweets. Most of the characters were also underdeveloped forcing the presentation of each to be more cliche that real. If you are going to write a play about use of torture, your set-up must be credible or it comes off as amateur propaganda. That important subject deserves better.
Date Reviewed: march 3, 2017.
For more info checkout the Skin for Skin page at theatreinchicago.com.
At Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge, Chicago, IL,, Call 773-680-4596, www.wearetheagency.org, tickets $28, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 90 minutes without an intermission, through April 2, 2017.