Directed by Nick Bowling
At Timeline Theatre, Chicago
Intriguing spy thriller unmasks CIA operations in Afghanistan against the Russians in the 1980’s
TimeLine Theatre’s mission is to produce history inspired works that connect with today’s social and political issues. They sure have a gem in J.T. Rogers’ Blood and Gifts. In a well-paced and superbly acted drams, Blood and Gifts take us back to the 1980’s as CIA agent, James Warnock (Timothy Edward Kane) struggles to stop the Soviet Union from escalating its war in Afghanistan toward Pakistan as the Cold War Doctrine’s policy of containment of Russian aggression unfolds. Using the troublesome Pakistan ISI, Warnock aids some of the tribal leaders of Afghanistan in their fight against the Russian.
This engrossing tale is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the complex dynamic that stills is in play in that volatile region. Can the ISI be trusted? Is the British government a “player” in the region? Can the CIA actually forge working relationships with Afghan warlords? Can they defeat the Russians and establish a workable Afghan government? Rogers’ perceptive work puts faces on all the players.
We see James Warnock’s strategy to use the ISI, the British, and the Afghan tribal leaders to thwart Russian aggression. The basis of his strategy lies in his ability to get a moderate tribal leader, Abdullah Khan (Kareem Bandealy) to both give timely and accurate intelligence about the Russian and, of course, fight them with the weapons he’ll send them. One of the strengths of Rogers’ script is his truthful portrayal of the essence, honor code and ethics of the Pushtun leader. Abdulah Khan and his second-in-command Saeed (Behzad Dabu). Kareem Bandealy and Behzad Dabu give strong, truthful and emotionally explosive performances here. We get a glimpse into their world that seems contradictory to out Western ethos.
We see spy interactions with Warnock,played with restrained yet nuanced determination by Timothy Edward Kane, and his Russian KGK counterpart, Dmitri Gromov ( the terrific Terry Hamilton) with spirited and frustrated emotions from British MI6 agent, Simon Craig ( the splendid Raymond Fox). The indirect exchanges between Warnock and Gromov were delicious reminding me of a LaCarre novel.
As the CIA agent fights with the ISI and becomes deeply involved with Kahn, he also must fight his own Agency for policy and funding to make the containment policy work. Walter Barnes (the strong David Parkes), the salty Cold Warrior CIA honcho must both keep Warnock focused and steer a key US Senator (Craig Spidle) to keep funding the CIA’s covert struggle against the Russians to include the new Stinger ant-aircraft missile.
We see how all the hard choices are really often the one’s that do the least harm to all involved. In this world of deceit and conflicting loyalties alliances shift and their repercussions still shape events in the region. Rogers’ political play is part spy thriller and part scathing indictment of American foreign policy. It demonstrates that we have not learned history’s lessons.
The TimeLine production of Blood and Gifts is an actor’s showcase. Kareem Bandealy and Timothy Edward Kane lead this outstanding ensemble that includes expert work from Terry Hamilton and Raymond Fox plus a most effective turn from Behzad Dabu.
This is a smart play that probes the complexities of Cold War policies that still have ramifications today. Finally, we see how a moderate Afghan leader can become ‘radicalized.’ See this marvelous work for more insights into the quagmire of Afghanistan.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 9, 2013
For more info checkout the Blood and Gifts page at theatreinchicago.com
At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Eallington, Chicago, IL call 773-281-8463, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $32 – $42, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through July 28, 2013