Saturday, November 29, 2014


Is all really fair in love and war? Not according to the thriller-comedy-love-story-political-commentary Asymmetric, written by the wonderful Mac Rogers, directed by the also wonderful Jordana Williams, and produced by Group UP and Gideon Productions at 59E59

Sean Williams, Kate Middleton, Seth Shelden
Photo: Deborah Alexander
As political commentary, Asymmetric offers a fascinating and important debate about the idea of "us" versus "them," with one character viewing "us" as the United States, our people, our guys, and the other viewing "us" as the human race, with no "them." I am struck by the fact that Rogers uses a woman character to embrace humanity and turn against drones and killing, despite (because of?) her previous close relationship with human destruction. Rogers is the second playwright this year to have a tough woman fight the idea of raining death down from the sky, and I have the same questions I discussed in that review (Grounded by George Brant):
... I wonder, does Brant believe that women, ... feel sympathy/compassion differently/more than men do? Is [the main character] supposed to be unique or representative? Or both? Would Grounded be the same if it were about a father rather than a mother? Men and women can be so different and yet so similar....
I am also reminded of an interview I once heard with author Alice Walker, who was back from a trip to the Middle East. The (male) reporter asked what she had learned there. He was looking for major political commentary, I think. Walker said that she learned that when a child is killed in the Middle East, it is our child who is killed. She said that there is no "their" child and that we are all in this together. And the reporter said, yeah, but what did you learn? He couldn't hear the deep significance in what she said.

As someone who considers the use of drones in warfare to be morally reprehensible, I appreciate that playwrights are taking on these questions. And I find it fascinating that both Rogers and Brant give female characters the eventual moral high ground, to the extent that such a thing exists.

There is a lot else going on in Asymmetric, and much of it is interesting and entertaining. Unfortunately on a whole, this production doesn't do itself justice. (It's possible that I happened to see a flat performance--there was something in the air that just didn't click.) The humor often doesn't land. The thrills are also diffused, and the love story lacks the weight it needs.

Jordana Williams' direction is usually focused and tightly paced, but here the characters and situations are not sharply defined, which may also reflect the writing. Rogers tends to start his plays with known tropes/cliches and then take them to new places, giving us the fun of genre writing with the thoughtfulness of serious drama. Here, however, the characterizations don't quite gel. We know that Josh (the ex-spy enticed back for one last job) is supposed to be supersmart, but he doesn't feel supersmart. (He also hasn't bathed in a long while yet doesn't look particularly unwashed.) Zack (the spy/bureaucrat trying to make his numbers--his kill numbers) is supposed to be smug, but he isn't much of anything. Ford (the torturer) is not as frightening as he needs to be, and Sunny (the spy who is fighting to become an ex-spy) is written as a generic superwoman, as odd as that sounds. Watching Asymmetric is a mixed experience--you can see where it's going and what it wants to be, but you can also see it not quite getting there.

As I mentioned above, I may just have seen a flat performance, and with all its faults, Asymmetric has a lot going for it. But it could have more.

(press ticket; second row, on the side, where I could not see the character Sunny for much of her performance)

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