Playwright: Frank McGuinness
At: Victory Gardens Theater ( upstairs )
Phone: ( 773 ) 871-3000; $20-$35
Runs through: Feb. 27
Three men are chained in a windowless room in Lebanon, held hostage for months: an American doctor, an Irish journalist and an English academic. One will be killed, one will be freed, one will remain. Widely produced in the early 1990s in the wake of the Beirut hostage crisis, this Frank McGuinness play seems ripe for revival now with hostages being taken and killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. 'Save us all from those who believe they are right in the name of God,' one character says.
Yet, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me ( title from the Gershwin love song ) isn't about politics or the Middle East or even about captivity. It's about companionship, about emotional survival more than physical survival. It's not great drama but it's effective drama in the hands of a skilled director and three passionate actors. This production's got 'em.
The long first act purposefully is tedious and repetitive, suggesting the boredom and routine of captivity yet also the nervous tension and fear that isolation breeds, without knowledge of what tomorrow may bring. The acting challenge is to develop and deepen the characters within the patterns of repetition, and Thomas J. Cox ( the doctor ) , Scott Jaeck ( the journalist ) and James Leaming ( the academic ) are convincingly up to the task.
They are helped by the never-flashy direction of Marianne Savell, a visiting Los Angelino. She understands that the cycles within the play are concentrated microcosms of life's major events: learning the rules, meeting new people, shifting friendships and alliances, death, grieving, even love and courtship ( in a nonsexual way ) . She, the cast and McGuinness understand that the human spirit is almost entirely an act of imagination, something we will into existence. Ultimately, these three men discover what they must do to keep the human spirit intact in each other, committing acts of emotional generosity and self-confrontation of which they would not have been capable in 'normal' circumstances.
Sounds solemn, but McGuinness is too cagey an Irish storyteller not to understand the value of laughter. There's plenty of it to be had, especially in Act II when Jaeck and Leaming—a matched pair of proud, warhorse veteran actors—really cut loose, with Leaming imitating tennis ace Virginia Wade and Jaeck limning thumper rabbit. These are against-type roles for both performers and they relish them without ever chewing the scenery. We forgive them their fade-in/fade-out Irish and British accents.
Lindsay Theodoridis supplies appropriately raggish costumes, and Heather Graff and Richard Peterson an appropriately dusty, earth-toned set; a small space defined by fragments of thick walls. The frequent, small lighting shifts ( especially slight changes in color ) and occasional rumbling sounds—like propeller planes overhead—were odd and distracting. I couldn't perceive what they contributed to the play.