The Ambassador Theater in D.C. continues its quest to be an international showcase of drama in its current production, a U.S. premiere of two one act plays by the Egyptian playwright Alfred Farag.
The two pieces, presented under the single title Trespassing and translated by Dina Amin, touch on the nature of acting itself and its uses in the real world.
In this instance the real world consists of two apartments of famous actors – one would almost like to think it’s the same apartment, decorated slightly differently over a couple of decades (Farag’s major plays were written from the late 1950s to the early 70s). Each coincidentally houses a major star of the day – one so full of self-love the wall is adorned with a poster of the latest role.
In the case of the first one-act, The Visitor, it is Negma Sadiq, who comes home still buzzing from the adrenaline of having played the queen of the Nile in a production of Antony and Cleopatra.
…the message at the Ambassador is: you can’t keep an exuberant theater woman down.
Her reverie is interrupted, though, when the police call to inform her that a murderer with several victims under his belt has indicated he will target the actress’ home that evening.
Soon, the officer himself arrives, with a plan to trap the intruder when he arrives. It’s clear to everyone soon enough – especially after a discussion about how a criminal must be the best actor of all since he pays for a bad performance with his life or freedom – that the officer himself may well be this costumed intruder.
At least he fools Negma into thinking so, and the officer is proud to have hoodwinked one of the nation’s finest actresses. Then it is her turn to fool him. Who is telling the truth is at the core of the action.
As the celebrated actress, Hanna Bondarewska, the Ambassador founder and artistic director has given herself a juicy and perhaps familiar role, full of dancing, running from one end of the apartment to another, and a lot of expressive breathing.
The extent to which the depiction is broadly done (especially in the small confines of the theater) can easily be chalked up to the artistic excesses of the actress being portrayed, not the actress beneath.
As the officer, Ivan Zizek, too, has license to overdo it, since he is either a cop who likes to act or a criminal who must (either way, I kept thinking a mustache would have helped).
Together they fill up the stage so much you forget that Rob Weinzimer ambles in toward the end as the superintendent wondering what the hubbub is about.
The audience is ushered out of the theater between acts, so as to redecorate the apartment from a classic, nearly timeless one with antique furniture, to a sharply modern one (circa 1970 judging from the garish clothes).
Its occupant is a current action film star – again Zirek, unleashed – who, just as the actress in the first act wound down from acting by dancing, spends his cool down time striking action figure poses.
That’s until he opens the door to the bedroom to find what seems to be at first a ghost – a woman in a bloody white gown rising to menace him in a slow-motion, macabre way.
He closes the door right away and calls his friend and lawyer from a nearby apartment, telling him about this dead woman he found. As the neighbor, Stephen Shetler seems at first the most logical character all night, all business and reason, in a demeanor that will remind some of TV’s George Costanza.
And yet, for all his legal advice, he doesn’t suggest right off the bat that they call the police, nor does he even bother to verify that there’s even a body behind that door. When they do open the door at last, they find nothing is there.
The actor isn’t relieved, as you might expect him to be. Instead, he’s shaking and freaking out because he thinks he’s going crazy. The lawyer has already called a criminal who he helped acquit (and as a result owes him a favor) to dispose of the body. Yet there’s no work for him when he gets there.
A doctor is summoned (Weinzimer again) and is ready to give a shot, pills or whatever it takes to calm him down. Mostly he writes furiously in a notebook (what, exactly? we wonder). When the apparition returns (to do a full room dance this time), nobody knows what to think, especially when it disappears again (and he’s relieved finally).
There are some speeches in there about how they are the middle class, who aren’t rich and are trying to shut off the poor, in a manner indicating they are trying to give the shifting narrative a suitable metaphor. But it doesn’t wash whatever the translation. A doctor and lawyer are not in the higher classes? And isn’t it stated that the actor is the highest paid person in the land?
And what of the dead body? If she is supposed to represent the underclass, we only learn a little about her, in declarations that are not well set up. She’s a mystery at first. Then the lawyer says she’s attractive without ever having seen her. Suddenly she’s called Mimi and the actor admits he did know her – she was just an extra.
But of course to the audience she’s anything but an extra: She’s Hanna Bondarewska once again – the artistic director and founder who played the lead role in the first one-act and directed the second (Gail Humphries Mardironsian directed the first).
Jumping up and dancing (something they never let the bodies on “CSI” do) lets you know that, though it may have never been the intent of Farag’s play, the message at the Ambassador is: you can’t keep an exuberant theater woman down.
Running time: Two hours with one 15 minute intermission.
Trespassing, two one-act plays by Alfred Farag by the Ambassador Theater, plays through Nov. 3 at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St NW, Washington D.C. For information or tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.