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Intelligence

Three female diplomats role play terrorist negotiations in this fast-paced, cerebral and provocative drama.

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Amelia Pedlow, Rachel Pickup and Kaliswa Brewster in a scene from Helen Banner’s Intelligence” (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

Christopher Caz

Christopher Caz, Critic

As the lights come up on Helen Banner’s Intelligence, the audience is met by a sterile conference room with typical long table and chairs, telephone and starkly cold fluorescent lights. On the back wall, multiple digital clocks glare back the day and military time of various parts of the world.

Lee Culvert (Kaliswa Brewster) enters. Sharply dressed for business but with a personal flair, she briefly surveys the empty room and begins setting up her laptop. Moments later, Paige Smith (Amelia Pedlow) arrives, more conservatively dressed, accessorized with water bottle and laptop. After exchanging a brief and awkward greeting, the two junior diplomats begin to speculate on their new assignment to the enigmatic, seasoned negotiator Sarah MacIntyre, offering different viewpoints, levels of enthusiasm and speculated outcomes.

Confident and charismatic, the aforementioned Sarah MacIntyre (Rachel Pickup) enters the room, introduces herself and proceeds to tell the other two women that for the next two weeks they’re all to be sequestered together to “do something amazing,” which will ultimately be to write up classified “new training scenarios for the resolution of intractable global situations.”

This setting and premise alone might suggest quite a dull evening of theater, except for the fact that from the moment these actresses converge on the stage, the subtle energies of their characters begin to intertwine and negotiate for space and position, piquing the interest of the audience. Sarah continues by telling the other two that they’ll all be role-playing to create the best writing and thinking they’ve ever done:

You’re going to hate this room.

You’re going to hate me.

But.

We’re going to do something amazing.

We’re going to forget

that we’re three dull suits in a room.

We’re going to get out of Washington.

Go around the world

putting on the faces of people who scare us,

looking out their eyes.

Understanding their reality.

Finding the gaps and the hot spots and the vulnerabilities

that let us communicate with someone,

even when they’re so dangerous they seem

beyond the reach of our words.

Kaliswa Brewster, Rachel Pickup and Amelia Pedlow in a scene from Helen Banner’s Intelligence” (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

The work commences, and these women begin to go in and out of role play, taking turns as the negotiator and the instigator of the “intractable global situation” they’re dealing with. The dialogue quickly jumps between real and unreal each time fingers are snapped, and the intensity of acting out their parts brings the weaknesses, strengths and fears of each of the women to the surface as they explore the depths of, essentially, the evil that men do.

The play reaches its climax when the women learn of the deaths of hundreds of women at the hand of the very terrorist with whom they’ve been practicing negotiating.

​When do we make bargains

with bad people

for the greater good?

What shadows

do we build trust upon?

Brewster, Pedlow and Pickup are fantastic. Their portrayals are distinct and subtle despite their characters’ corporate outlines, and their lightning transitions in and out of role play are dizzyingly fast but crystal clear.

Jess Chayes’ direction is superb, creating a perfect arc to this densely written drama and bringing its packed prose to life.

Amelia Pedlow, Rachel Pickup and Kaliswa Brewster in a scene from Helen Banner’s Intelligence” (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

Sophia Choi’s costuming gives uniqueness to all three women despite the confines of corporate dress; quick blouse changes and other small adjustments cleverly depict the passage of time with little effort.

Carolyn Mraz’s scenic design creates the ideal bleak conference room setting for the story, not taking focus yet giving the actors physical space with which to interact. Although the script calls for one clock on the wall, the choice to include several clocks in red digital letters perfectly matches the intensity of the play. Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s lighting design complements the production extremely well.

Generic title aside, Helen Banner’s Intelligence is excellently written, intense, and thought-provoking. Its characters’ high-stakes struggle for power and control, both politically and personally, is compelling to watch.

Intelligence (through February 3, 2019)

Dutch Kills Theater

Next Door at NYTW, 79 East 4th Street, between Second Avenue and Bowery, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-460-5475 or visit  https://www.nytw.org/show/intelligence/

Running time: 110 minutes with no intermission

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Christopher Caz
About Christopher Caz (6 Articles)
Christopher Caswell hails from Austin, Texas, but has called New York City his home for over three decades. Seasoned cabaret soloist, longest running member of the award-winning pops group "Uptown Express" and contributor to ManhattanDigest.com, he shares his view from the audience for TheaterScene.net. http://www.ChristopherCaswell.com
Contact: Website

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