A grainy photo. An ex-girlfriend with an ax to grind. A Koran. A book about guns. And a porn magazine featuring a naked woman posing with a cow.
Could such items be proof that an Arab-born, struggling American writer was part of a terrorist group responsible for a recent deadly suicide attack? Or do they add up to nothing more than circumstantial evidence that Khaled could easily explain away to the two government officials who are now interrogating him in his apartment?
Context is everything, of course, and playwright Yussef El Guindi offers plenty in the thought-provoking drama “Back of the Throat” staged by The University of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company. So whether or not Khaled, a non-religious Muslim who doesn’t speak Arabic, was involved in the plot doesn’t really matter. Nor is it answered. Instead, El Guindi, an Egyptian-American, challenges us with a political and philosophical debate that needs to be examined in this post-9/11 America: To what extent are Americans willing to go to find and root out terrorists in our midst?
Pretty far, the playwright suggests. And local Dearborn residents, the subject of much scrutiny these past half-dozen years, might agree. But El Guindi damages his otherwise sharp and timely discussion with momentary digressions into buffoonish caricatures. (The couple of “what the f**k” moments with agents Bartlett and Carl disrupt an otherwise serious discourse.)
Director Greg Trzaskoma does a fine job keeping his actors focused on the meat of the story, however. Matthew R. Klug (Bartlett) and David Kowalczyk (Carl) play off each other quite nicely, seamlessly switching between good cop and bad. And Marissa Thorndyke adds sweet levity as a stripper whose testimony is key evidence against Khaled.
But it’s guest artist Joe Colosi who has to dig deepest into his well of emotions – and he does so very believably.
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘Back of the Throat’
UDM Theatre Company at Marygrove College Theatre, 8425 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit. Fri.-Sun., through Dec. 2. Tickets: $15. For information: 313-993-3270 or http://theatre.udmercy.edu/