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Theater: Proving Mr. Jennings
2006-08-16

This article shared 2973 times since Wed Aug 16, 2006
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Playwright: James Walker

At: Actors Workshop Theatre,

1044 W. Bryn Lawr

Phone: 773-728-7529; $20-$25

Through Sept. 3

BY SCOTT C. MORGAN

Call it poor timing or a fortuitous coincidence: On Aug. 9, Actors Workshop Theatre presented the American premiere of Proving Mr. Jennings, James Walker's 2004 British black comedy exploring the paranoia of home-grown terrorism. The next day, the British government announced that it thwarted a home-grown terrorist plot to blow up airplanes over the Atlantic Ocean using carry-on explosive liquids.

These recent revelations will no doubt color an audience's view of Proving Mr. Jennings, a smart and insistent comedy that packs a punch against manipulative people who use fearmongering in order to get what they want. That punch might not be what people want to feel right now as they encounter another fretful wave of concern over their safety and security.

Nonetheless, Proving Mr. Jennings stands out as a timely rallying cry to keep the government's actions in check, lest innocent people's rights get trampled in the name of protection.

Proving Mr. Jennings targets a mild-mannered lawyer who enters a National Health Service hospital for a heart transplant, only to wake up afterward with everyone accusing him of being a suicide bomber with a ticking time bomb implanted inside him. It's an absurd premise, but Walker uses it to bring up niggling questions about the loss of civil liberties amid Britain ( and America's ) ongoing 'war on terror.'

Mr. Jennings gets imprisoned without formal charges or access to lawyers ( shades of prisoners being held at Guantanamo ) , plus he also faces torture and blackmail as interrogators try to wheedle out information about his co-conspirators. Through it all, the audience gets caught up in the question of whether Mr. Jennings really is at risk of exploding ( even with Walker's somewhat lame exposition of a flirty nurse going after the uncomfortable Mr. Jennings ) .

Director G. J. Cederquist has assembled a good cast to illustrate Walker's concerns, though some do a better job than others. As the title character, Damian Arnold comes off best ( so he should with all of his impressive British acting credits ) . With his eyes bulging in frequent disbelief and frantic pleadings, Arnold makes for a likable hero thrust into the unlikeliest of nightmare situations.

Of Mr. Jennings' interrogators, Brian Parry is delightfully demented as the dim Agent Smith, while Don Swanson is calculatingly low-key as Doctor Gibbons. Dan McNamara and Julie Griffith's respective turns as Col. Loveday and Nurse Davids are fine, though they're hampered by unconvincing British accents and either too little or too much effort at pushing the comedy.

The entire plot hinges on Mrs. Jennings, played by Lauren N. Goode. I can't reveal her exact role ( which would ruin the surprise ) , though I wish Goode could have been a bit more forceful.

Though it's not a perfect play or production, Proving Mr. Jennings succeeds at engaging people to laugh while considering a serious subject that affects us all. Whether the timing of its American premiere proves to be a liability depends on where you stand politically in this brave new world of ours.


This article shared 2973 times since Wed Aug 16, 2006
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