“Blind Angels” – a new play that looks at how domestic terrorism is born

Blind Angels opens in New York
Theatre Review by Milo Jordan

If there is ever an argument for theatre, for art at all, it is to urge the viewer to look at the world differently than they did before. Dick Brukenfeld’s new play Blind Angels at Theatre for the New City in Manhattan is an exemplary work that has a unique perspective. Dealing with a subject matter as sensitive as a terrorist attack and kidnapping – particularly one that has its basis in a real story – can be a daunting task, but here it never feels trite or super political. And thankfully, with the possible exception of the never-seen Eric, none of the would-be terrorists is ever vilified. In fact the very opposite is true – each character remains someone we are able to identify with.

Blind Angels draws its inspiration from a real story, that of the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and eventually murdered by his captors, Daniel Pearl. It is a simple enough plot in the undertaking – a newsman is captured and held hostage by three would-be terorrists – but the nuance and depth that Brukenfeld gives to each of his characters is what truly gives this play its magic.

Striving to explore the reasons why someone might turn against their own country, the trio of would-be terrorists are far from Muslim extremists, bent on the destruction of America. Instead they include a woman who lost her humanitarian mother to a drone strike. Also her second cousin, a mathematician who has been slighted and called psychotic by the American government simply because of his race, religion and differing views. Finally there is an overly idealistic photographer and video/audio man who wants to change the treatment of Muslim people in America. The woman Danny (Qurrat Ann Kadwani) and the slighted mathematician Sadri (Francesco Campari) are both Ivy League graduates. Yusuf (Alok Tewari) owns his own business. All three acknowledge that they enjoy the freedoms offered by America.

So why then, are they seeking to attack the very country that has done so much for them? As Aaron (Scott Raker) asks during the play, “Suppose one of our drones kills your favorite aunt. And like Sadri you’re punished for speaking your mind. Would you just stand there and take it? Would you?”

This, among other topics, is what the play hones into with the audience.

The would-be terrorists have snuck a nuclear bomb into a New York City apartment. They are planning to detonate it to prove to the U.S. government how simple it is for civilians to acquire and explode a weapon of mass destruction within the borders of our country.

In cameos throughout the play, Senator Hammond (played by Cynthia Granville) insists that every nuke is guarded by a secret code – and that this security measure is impossible to crack. “They forget,” insists Sadri, “that we Arabs invented mathematics.”

Thus begins the struggle between the four main characters as the newsman Aaron tries to convince them not to set it off. He insists that they can avoid the destruction and inevitable death the bomb would cause and yet still show the government that it is wrong. Sadri insists that unless they detonate the bomb the government will lock them up to silence them. The blast must take place in order for their message to be heard.

He is convinced that if Aaron will write a piece encouraging evacuation to run alongside their own message that they can avoid a huge death toll, be compassionate and still prove their point. As time ticks by it becomes clear this idealistic plan is not what the bomb’s financiers had in mind. As the offstage man-behind-the-plan Eric orders Yusuf to kill Sadri before the bomb is detonated, another dimension is added to this already riveting human tale.

The writing of Brukenfeld is complemented by the talent that surrounds it. Under Melissa Attebery’s direction the actors and stage crew have pulled together a truly wonderful play from all sides. Brandon McNeel’s set design is evocative of an upscale New York apartment but with accents that lure the audience into the story.

Of particular note are the paintings of Erin Treacy displayed throughout the set, which hint at the play’s explosive undertones even before the actors step on stage. And of course once they do the real thrills and chills begin. Each of the actors and actresses in this performance is excellent in their portrayal of their characters. The standout is Francesco Campari, who plays Sadri excellently with a compassionate and almost familial air.

The working script says that Sadri views himself as Aaron’s ‘big brother’. In fact he could be anyone’s elder brother. Scott Raker’s equally excellent, somewhat neurotic, and all-over-the-place Aaron complements Qurrat Ann Kadwani’s stern and self-controlled Danny. Add to this brew the playful ‘everyguy’s guy’ of Alok Tewari’s Yusuf and you have a potent and perfectly balanced cast.

Blind Angels comes very, very close to a play everyone should see. More than simply thought-provoking and exciting, it is also a tale that keeps us leaning in from the edge of our seats waiting to see what happens next, while at the same time reminding us to the reality of how we too often view people as one-dimensional. Blind Angels belongs on your list of must-see new works.

“Blind Angels” is written by Dick Brukenfeld, directed by Melissa Attebery with Assistant Direction/Stage Management/Production by J. Alan Hanna. Set Designs by Brandon McNeel, Light Design by Alexander Bartenieff, Original Music and Sound Design by Anthony Mattana. Sylvianne Shurman is the Costume Designer, with Giovanni Villari as Fight Choreographer. Props/sets by Lytza R. Colon, additional Assistant Stage Management by Tashika Futch, Set Construction/Master Carpentry by Mark Marcante. The paintings displayed on set are done by Erin Treacy. Characters in order of appearance are Aaron played by Scott Raker, Sadri played by Francesco Campari, Yusuf played by Alok Tewari, Danny played by Qurrat Ann Kadwani, and Senator Hammond played by Cynthia Granville. “Blind Angels” is playing its world premiere through March 2nd, 2014 at the Theater for the New City on 1st Avenue. Performances are Thursday – Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00pm, 90 minutes with one intermission. General Admission $15, seniors and students $10. For more information and box office details please visit www.theaterforthenewcity.net or call (212) 254-1109.

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