A Wisconsin mother visits her captive son at the height of the Iran Hostage Crisis in Michelle Kholos Brooks’ compelling, eye-opening, fact-based World Premiere drama Hostage, the latest from Skylight Theatre Company.

 A group of pro-revolution university students entered the American Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and took fifty-two American diplomats and citizens hostage in exchange for the return to Iran of the recently deposed Shah for trial for crimes committed during his nearly four-decade reign.

 Five months into what would turn out to be a 444-day standoff between President Jimmy Carter and Ayatollah Khomeini, Barbara Timm (Tracie Lockwood) and her husband Kenny (Jack Clinton) flew 6400 miles to Tehran where Barbara was granted a twenty-minute meeting with her 19-year-old Marine son Kevin Hermening (Zachary Grant), the youngest of the captive Americans.

Inspired by a 2012 NPR interview with Hermening, Playwright Brooks imagines what might have been said during Barbara’s all too brief minutes with her son and during the days that followed her return to Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

 Rather than observe strict chronological order, Hostage relives Barbara’s experiences as a surreal dream, one during which she, Kevin, Kenny, Kevin’s father Richard (Christopher Hoffman), and his captors Ebrahim (Satiar Pourvasei) and “Tehran Mary” (Vaneh Assadourian) never leave the stage as participants, as observers, or as commentators.

 Despite a few disconcerting moments (i.e. Tehran Mary jumping into a conversation between Barbara, Kenny, and Richard following Barbara’s return to Oak Creek), it’s an approach that works, giving Hostage a striking theatricality that no movie or miniseries could provide.

Though playwright Brooks remains firmly on Barbara’s side throughout, she refuses to demonize those who held fifty-two Americans hostage, revealing them not as the “terrorists” and “anarchists” of Jimmy Carter’s rhetoric, but as educated university students who saw their demands as simple justice.

Barbara’s all too brief minutes with her son are, as might be expected, as riveting as live theater gets as a rifle-bearing Ebrahim barks out orders, Kevin attempts to serve as intermediary, and Barbara pleads simply to have her son’s hands unbound for an embrace.

 And if that weren’t already enough for dramatic conflict, Barbara’s return to the States has her facing accusations of being a traitor to her country or, worse still, of spying for Iran.

Not only that, but the sudden reappearance of Kevin’s absentee father revives tensions between the Timms and Barbara’s ex to explosive effect.

Like Skylight’s recent The Madres, Hostage pays tribute to women willing to go to any lengths to protect and defend their young, even if this means battling their own government, with the added plus that this time round, the characters taking center stage are the real deal. (Hermening runs a financial advisory practice in Wausau, Wisconsin. Masoumeh Ebtekar, aka “Tehran Mary,” even younger than Kevin at the time of his capture, is Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs.)

 Elina de Santo’s incisive, visually striking direction brings out the best in Brooks’ script and elicits electrifying performances by Grant as a young man tested almost beyond endurance, by Clinton and Hoffman as husbands each claiming Kevin’s best interests at heart, and by Iranian-American actors Assadourian and Pourvasei as either terrorists or revolutionary heroes, you take your pick.

Still, this is Lockwood’s show all the way, a star turn of such ferocity, vulnerability, pain, resilience, and maternal love that it will stick with you long after Hostage’s fade to black.

Scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz backs the action with a stage-wide American flag and the candle Barbara kept burning for her son’s return. Brian Gale’s lighting makes dramatic use of colored bulbs while signalling transitions from Wisconsin to Iran and back. Christopher Moscatiello’s sound design ups the dramatic tension every step of the way.

Naila Aladdin Sanders’ costumes, David Phillips’ properties, and Edgar Landa’s fight choreography are winners as well.

Shen Heckel is assistant director. Natalya Shahinyan is assistant costume designer. Garrett Crouch is stage manager. Casting is by Raul Clayton Staggs.

Hostage is produced by Gary Grossman and Tony Abatemarco. Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx, Josh Gershick, Shaina Rosenthal, Leila Tabatabaee are associate producers.

With the 40th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis just a year away and the U.S.’s nuclear deal pull-out making today’s headlines, the time could not be riper for Hostage to debut, a powerful tribute to a mother who would not take no for an answer.

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Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
May 28, 2018
Photos: Ed Krieger


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