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An Interrogation Primer

nytheatre.com review by Amy Lee Pearsall
August 11, 2012

"You start by taking off his blindfold. You do it gently, careful not to jerk his head or neck." An Interrogation Primer, currently showing as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, aims to methodically do the same for its audience by deconstructing the process of military interrogation. The 35-minute monologue—crafted by Operation Desert Storm and Gulf War veteran and former military interrogator Mike Nowacki and adapted for the stage by Eric Ziegenhagen—is the real deal.

Taken directly to the audience and delivered in the second person by a magnetic and imposing Sean Bolger, it is hard to look away. Appearing every inch the military man in head-to-toe khakis, Bolger has the air of someone who has perhaps been at this task for too long. As expertly directed by Ziegenhagen, he offers an earnest and exacting portrayal of a man just trying to do the right thing in the line of high stakes inquiry.

The actual act of interrogation—and its seventeen approaches—is broken down for us with precision, from items present in the room to how they are used, in what order and with what attitude, and the general questions asked. Occasionally, Bolger takes a swig of water from a thermos on the desk, water dripping down his chin onto his shirt, suggesting that those under his spotlight aren't the only ones who might need a moment to pause, reflect, and cool off.

Ziegenhagen makes certain the stage is dressed simply; only the items required by the interrogation process are displayed. The stage is lit with a frontal spot; part of me would have loved to see a down spot, given the subject matter. On occasion, Bolger walks into black and even out into the house, continuing his instruction to the audience.

Primer does not wrap up in hospital corners, with everything neatly in its place. I personally found Nowacki's ending a little disconcerting, given the clockwork operation of the rest of the piece. It did occur to me, however, that things are far from orderly in war, and that the war within continues inside our veterans even as they return home, attempting to assimilate into a life they once knew.

A small button pin was left on each seat for the audience members to take home. Mine directed, "Do what you think is right." Of course, what constitutes right and wrong in these instances can get blurred. As Bolger's anonymous interrogator explains, "Good and evil are different now. Sometimes to be good, you have to do things that are evil." An instruction manual that packs a wallop, An Interrogation Primer leaves its audience with something to think about.