nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 6, 2010
I don't want to sound flippant or glib, but it's certainly true that someone who is being held hostage for many weeks will have lots of time to reflect on just about any life issue you can name. In 75 taut, tense minutes, Yussef El Guindi covers a tremendous amount of that ground in his play Hostages, which is about two English college professors who have been kidnapped by an unspecified Middle Eastern terrorist organization and are being held in a small nondescript room. Hostages is only incidentally political—and when it is, its message is the general one that everybody is ultimately accountable for the actions and legacies of their respective nations. Mostly Hostages is about our individual humanity and the related concept of fellowship. Echoing, in different ways, works by Sartre and Beckett, El Guindi explores how we survive on our own and how we survive with each other; what makes us ourselves and what makes us—and prevents us from being—free. Bravo to Miscreant Theatre for presenting (what I believe is) the New York premiere of this significant work.
The eponymous characters of Hostages are Meadows and Ted, respectively an English professor and a political scientist/activist. When we first meet them, they are chained to the radiator, seated on the floor. Meadows has arrived in this room after having spent more than a month alone in a dark closet (and so his new location is something of a relief). Ted is a newcomer as far as we can tell. It's clear from the outset that the two men know each other, at least a little, and probably don't like each other. Meadows is loquacious and unashamedly paranoid, and his early overtures for some kind of contact with Ted ring desperately true. Ted is more reserved at first, and evidently more pragmatic.
We witness them coping with their circumstance, their limited surroundings, and each other, in a series of vignettes that happen, we gather, over many weeks. El Guindi skips from topic to topic, making our vicarious viewing resonate in our minds. What would I do, I thought, if I had only one other companion 24 hours a day for weeks on end? Would I bicker, or manipulate, or blindly follow? What physical and emotional sensations would I crave, seek out? What would I admit? What would I learn? What humiliations would I allow; when would pride intervene? What—if it came to it—would I be willing to die for?
All of the foregoing, and much more, have their place in Hostages, but El Guindi makes the progression of ideas feel organic and honest. We learn many things about Ted and Meadows, but I'm not sure that we don't learn more about ourselves.
Certainly some of the intensity of the experience is due to the excellent work of director Jack Young, who has staged the play with great simplicity and clarity. Jeff Barry, as Ted, and Jacob Knoll, as Meadows, give outstanding performances, helping us find the character traits that each of us may share with these two complicated, difficult men. The cast is rounded out by Peter Macklin, in the relatively small role of their guard—he makes the man memorable.
For the deep and often uncomfortable questions it provokes, Hostages ranks as compelling and worthy theatre. I will be on the lookout for other work by playwright El Guindi. And I continue to be an admirer of Miscreant Theatre, a young company with intelligence and integrity that has already made a name for itself within the New York indie community.