Emily Fleischer and Marcus Callender in as scene from On the
Head of a Pin
(Photo credit: Hunter Canning)
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many devils? Expert and thrilling in its confidence, adept and surefooted as anything on stage in New York City this season, On the Head of a Pin sweeps us away in the shortest three hour suspense story in town and goes dangerously further: it questions our moral fiber. Come to think of it, it’s the only suspenseful play in town. And I can hear the voices of the wise ones harping now on how very young playwright Frank Winters, in this play, already a force to be reckoned with, should not have been directing his own work because it is a given that playwrights who direct their own work are much too indulgent with themselves, he should have cut an hour out of his play, it’s too long. Why? Not if he integrated his story threads so well they support each other in this vividly told, vividly acted, vividly directed interlocking tale of corporate power, corruption, intimidation and torture. Not enough? There’s also fear, job loss, threats, two love stories and sacrifice. And, bless him, decency.
Young newlywed Sarah Kennedy (Emily Fleischer), job hunting since graduation as a classics scholar, finally lands one as a translator in Arabic at Caliban Enterprises, even though it’s thousands of miles from her home. The bennies are too good. Her excessively charming employer, Chris Conrad (Jason Ralph), jocularly wonders why a new bride takes a job thousands of miles away from her new husband. Sarah can only say she needs a job. She’s suddenly in military clothing, meeting her new boss, Kathleen Crane (Jen Tullock), also in combat dress, who orders her to interview one of the terrorists they’re holding in this Caliban installation. For every U.S. combat man in Iraq and Afghanistan, she informs Sarah, there are two mercenaries also on the U.S. payroll through the auspices of a company like Caliban. Sarah is not an interviewer, she’s only a translator. Threatened with immediate return home she capitulates. Guard Russell Clark (Marcus Callender) talks down her fears, he’ll be right there, he hears everything, he’s got her back. Sarah enters the holding cell.
Will Gallacher, Sofia Lauwers and Devine Dunne Cannon in a scene
from On the Head of a Pin
(Photo credit: Hunter Canning)
Young, frazzled newly promoted acting editor Jon Lowe (James Ortiz), filling in for his seriously ill, beloved mentor boss, is confronted by ex-star reporter Lily Strauss (Sofia Lauwers) who was banished from the paper in disgrace six months ago for lying. She still denies it. She’s got a new story, impeccable source she will not divulge, and photos. Of prisoner torture. She wants back in, to restore her name. Her story will shake up the foundations of the Washington-Corporate collusion running the wars.
Director/playwright Winters has plunged us into the heat of suspicion and controversy governing our political lives, our moral standards and all ramifications. Then, with surprising skill and lovely actors, as each of his characters comes fully alive, he weaves their personal lives and problems into the larger issues they’re trying to get a hold on. And we care. And are rapt. When we find Sarah illicitly using her boss’s phone to call her husband, pouring her love into a message machine, it hurts. We’ve been there. And when she cannot bear to do interviews with a brutalized, innocent man, guard Russell urges her on not only for the health insurance she so desperately needs for her gravely ill husband but for her own safety – she already knows too much – well, some of us understand that, too.
Lily, hired on a short rein contract, is saddled with intern Gwen (Devin Dunne Cannon) who has her own agenda. She may be Jon’s spy but she’s got much more on her mind. Researcher Henry Sullivan (Will Gallacher) warns that they are not yet solid. Lily and Gwen go to Caliban. Chris, the invincible, turns on the charm until he sees the photos. Before they know it, the Department of Justice in the person of Allison Howe (Jennifer Loring), formerly of Caliban Enterprises, now in the legal department at Justice, demands their evidence and sources or it’s jail for Lily. Sarah Kennedy is dead. What has Lily uncovered?
What next? And what next? And what next? What have we, as a nation, become complicit in? Because this isn’t just a story, it’s the lives of these people we’ve become involved with and it’s our lives, too. Rich in detail, rich in complication, in clever dialogue, believable characters, we have been carried along not only with top grade storytelling but top grade purpose. This is a must see.
On the Head of a Pin (through March 11, 2013)
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org