nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 13, 2008
Ostensibly, Extraordinary Rendition, written and directed by Jim Balestrieri and playing now as part of the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival, is about interrogation. The Major is trying to crack a coded spy message and, in the empty chair across from him, the audience is led to believe, sits the person able to give him the answers he seeks. But, actually, the play is more about the results of espionage: paranoia and fear.
In fact, cracking a code (the code is, in this case, an eerie toy piano-sounding broadcast attributed to the East German Stasi) is of particular relevance to The Major. Human code breakers are being replaced by computerized data analysis systems and The Major, as the last code-cracker around, desperately wants to crack the code known as "Swedish Rhapsody" to prove his relevance to the military and, consequently, himself.
In using the idea of a coded message, Balestrieri is working with a potent metaphor for the fear and paranoia of modern life. After all, these codes are supposedly unbreakable and are only used once. Each time he hears one, The Major knows that something is being conveyed that is hidden to him—and who knows what the consequences will be? So, we'll forgive The Major if he seems to be losing his grip.
For all the richness of the play's central image, Extraordinary Rendition lacks the focus and clarity to convey its ideas to the audience and then push them to a satisfying conclusion. As in any solo show, there is a lot of talk—but even if The Major is going a bit mad from it all, that talk can be clear in the journey its audience is meant to take. Madness, it seems, is the point of it all.
The play also struggles in its characterization of The Major. Michael Raymond Fox does an admirable job with all the directions he's asked to go, but since we meet The Major near the end of his tenure he's already been stripped of the confidence to make us believe that he could ever extract information from anything—code or detainee.
Extraordinary Rendition is mining interesting territory. There is no shortage of interesting ideas in its net, but, right now, the audience has to work too hard to figure out what some of them are. But, the play shows promise, and I am interested to see Balestrieri's work further.