Frank MacGuinness may have written Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me back in the early 1990s, but the Irish playwright’s seriocomedic look at three Westerners held hostage somewhere in the Middle East remains, nearly a quarter century later, as timely as today’s headlines, as San Pedro’s Little Fish Theatre imaginatively directed revival makes clear.
Like the real-life Brian Keenan, kidnapped by Islamic Jihadists on route to his teaching job at the American University Of Beirut in 1986, MacGuinness’s three fictional protagonists—feisty Irish journalist Edward (Joshua Thomas), firm-headed American physician Adam (Doug Mattingly), and flighty British literature professor Michael (Ben Hensley)—have committed no worse sin than being in the wrong place (Beirut) at the wrong time (the height of the ‘82-‘92 Lebanon hostage crisis).
Still, innocence means little to nothing where terrorists are concerned, nor does there seem much reason for the three captives to hope for any imminent rescue, and so they remain chained to the walls their windowless cell with no one but each other to depend upon in their fight against despondency.
They use their imaginations to “shoot movies” which they then share aloud. (Adam’s is a Hitchcockian mystery while Edward’s is in the style of Sam Peckinpah, complete with vultures feasting on a dead nun played by none other than Madonna.)
They imagine themselves out for a night on the town, the American “ordering” a vodka martini with a twist and an olive while his English mate opts not surprisingly for a sherry.
It is these and other flights of fancy that keep Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me a good deal livelier than one might expect from a “hostage play.”
Still, a little whimsy can go a long way, and by the time our men are imagining themselves flying high above England in “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang,” you may well find yourself fantasy-sequenced-out and in the mood to skip what’s next: an 11th-hour monolog that goes on excruciatingly long. (Then again, it may be MacGuinness’s intention to make us feel the frustration and boredom his characters are undergoing.)
It’s hard to imagine any audience member not asking him or herself, “What would I do in these circumstances?”, and MacGuinness’s decision to steer clear of political debate (other than some forays into England-vs.-Ireland territory) gives his play a timeless quality that one more concerned with the motives behind these particular men’s captivity would lack.
Tito Ortiz directs with visual flair (I particularly admire the way the talented young director shifts our point of view in the play’s second act), and there is some powerful acting being done at San Pedro’s Little Fish Theatre in roles that would test even the finest of thespians.
Among the production design team, lighting designer Stacey Abrams deserves particular mention for aiding and abetting Ortiz in his vision.
Scenic designer Chris Beyries keeps things deliberately simple, since his set must do double duty with the concurrently running And The Stones Will Cry Out. It is dark and stark and lets our imaginations fill in the blanks.
Jessica Westerfield has come up with a terrific sound design, one which incorporates a appropriately moody instrumental version of George And Ira Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me” in addition to the requisite Ella Fitzgerald.
Westerfield is stage manager and Oliver Mulherin is assistant stage manager.
Written a decade or so before 90-minutes, no-intermission became au courant, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me runs a good half hour longer than I would have enjoyed.
Then again Adam and Edward and Michael themselves would just as surely have opted for a briefer incarceration, which may well have been playwright MacGuinness’s intention in keeping us in our seats those extra thirty minutes.
Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St. San Pedro.
August 26, 2105
Photos: Mickey Elliot