THE WELCOMING COMMITTEE
nytheatre.com review by Anthony Pennino
The excellent play The Welcoming
Committee by Melissa Rayworth follows two separate story lines, both
of which inform and serve as a counterpoint to one another. Jess (played
by Rayworth herself) is held by the police in the People’s Republic of
China for alleged involvement with proscribed spiritual groups. She is
questioned by Gao (Tony Cheng), who demands that she sign an apology for
her activities. She is visited by Miller (Greg Skura) from the American
embassy who tells her to apologize.
August 15, 2002
Back in the United States, two college professors, Maggie (Heather Grayson) and Peter (Tony Finn), are playing host to Guan (Michael Carroll), a Chinese Muslim student. Guan’s activities are suspicious, and Maggie believes he is a terrorist. Eventually, Peter succumbs to Maggie’s paranoia and turns Guan in to the INS.
Rayworth’s play explores issues of freedom versus security. It is particularly chilling because in it, a government which we have been conditioned to believe is reprehensible suddenly becomes understandable. Rayworth does not shy away from the idea that we are adopting some of the PRC’s practices as we realize there are other worse monsters out there.
Director Judith Stevens-Ly masterfully builds the tension and stakes in each scene. The acting across the board is superb. Rayworth captures perfectly the mix of naiveti and outrage of an American abroad. Cheng makes his interrogator menacing but still quite human. Skura gives a superb performance as he blends the cynicism and pragmatism of Miller. Carroll is very likeable as the Chinese exchange student; he evokes sorrow when we realize he is destined for a similar fate as Jess’s. Finn does a good job in his journey from believing in Guan to turning against him. And Grayson is simply terrific as someone who knows she is being irrational but cannot stop herself.
If I have a complaint, it is this: at forty minutes, the show is too short. As I was becoming totally invested in the twin worlds of the play and the characters that inhabit them, the lights came down for the curtain call. Rayworth definitely has the makings of a full-length play here.