As Far As We Know
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 14, 2007
The title of this play, As Far As We Know, is apt not only for the given circumstances of the plot, a family waiting to hear of the fate of their soldier son missing in action in Iraq, but seemingly for many Americans personally removed from having a family member serve in our volunteer army and the secretiveness of our current administration about the war. Seeing this powerful show, I was struck by how the family's desperate quest for the truth is so very relevant to us all.
The story is inspired by a real person, Keith "Matthew" Maupin, who, as a 20-year old Army Reservist from Batavia, Ohio, was ambushed on April 9, 2004 en route to Baghdad. On April 14th, a videotape of Maupin surrounded by masked gunmen was shown on the Al-Jazeera network. Six weeks later, a second videotape surfaced that appeared to show his execution. Because of the poor quality of the tape, and the victim's face never being shown and no body ever recovered, the U.S. Army would not verify if he was dead or alive, or even if it really was Maupin in the video. Till this date, more than three years later, there has been no word of Matt Maupin.
Laurie Sales and Kelly Van Zile, the founders of unCommon Cause Theatre, along with the cast credited as "The Torture Project Ensemble," have created a fictional imagining of the Maupin family's struggle to find out any information about their son. They use interviews with the family, community members, and soldiers in his platoon in combination with theatrical moments such as a "game show" where an imaginary Matt (in the play he is named Jake Larkin) and his twin sister Nicole try to guess what is considered torture.
Though I sometimes found moments like the mother simply and quietly saying to a neighbor, "My son has been missing for 47 days" to be just as—if not more—powerful, I also applaud the variety of ways the play conveys ideas to the audience. If our government has thrown away the Geneva Conventions and waterboarding is not considered torture, how can we hope that Matt and other American POWs will be treated humanely under standard wartime conventions?
The entire cast is excellent. On the night I saw it, Cordis Head, as the mother, Connie Larkin, had just stepped into the role. With script in hand, she conveyed such warmth and heartbreak, I would go see the play again just to see how much more she will master the part. Van Zile plays Nicole, the sister. Her portrayal is equally compelling in her sometimes reckless attempts to get the truth.
Sara Kathryn Bakker plays Capt. Patricia Evans, an ambitious Army careerist assigned to the family to provide "assistance." In one of the best moments, there is a voiceover from her computer of an on-line training manual to instruct officers on how to deal with NOKs (next of kin): Never say the Army is going to help, always look like you are concerned, always wear a dress uniform. Bakker plays a perfect soldier in her bearing and manner but also shows a human being with doubts and actual concern for others regardless of the harm that may do to her career.
Tracy Bersley and Sales, co-directors, keep a fine balance between the naturalism of family moments and others like a ridiculous piling up of casseroles on the family table over time. It shows that even though neighbors may care, no one really knows what to do. That is what's most striking about this show. The family makes themselves busy creating thousands of "missing" fliers of their son's picture to send to soldiers in Iraq, they volunteer, they work on the family car, but without information, they are angry, stranded and helpless. Their struggle resonates now at a time when our government tells us to just trust them. I highly recommend this show.