Plan-B Theatre Company kicks off its season full of works by playwright Eric Samuelsen with Nothing Personal, an intense exploration of the descent of America's idea of justice in a post-9/11 world where things like "enhanced interrogation techniques" are widely seen as acceptable.
Yeah, not exactly a light and fluffy launch of the season, but definitely a thought-provoking one, creatively crafted by Samuelsen. He uses the jailing for contempt of court of Clinton-era scandal character Susan McDougal at the hands of prosecutor Kenneth Starr as a jumping-off point to address America's ever-increasing comfort with injustice, as long as it's in the name of "protecting America."
The McDougal case, while certainly appalling, seems almost quaint compared to the progression of scenes Samuelsen creates addressing torture at the hands of Americans during the so-called War on Terror. He uses McDougal's victimization at the hands of the zealous moralist Starr to show the effects of things like sleep deprivation and solitary confinement, and McDougal's delusions in prison turn into scenes invoking U.S. interrogators waterboarding and torturing prisoners in search of information about Al-Qaeda.
It's a complex structure, but Samuelsen's script rewards the audience with great dialogue and a succession of thoughtful ideas delivered by both McDougal (April Fossen) and Starr (Kirt Bateman). Joined by Dee-Dee Darby Duffin as a prison guard with a subtle but vital presence to the proceedings, both Fossen and Bateman succeed in keeping the audience engaged through the dialogue-heavy, largely action-free production.
Fossen's role is the more physically demanding, crawling on the floor and being repeatedly chained up, while Batemen's Starr circles the stage, shark-like as he attacks McDougal's resolve from every conceivable angle. Together, they and Samuelsen's script keep the audience rapt through 80 intense minutes.
You won't be comfortable watching McDougal struggle through her ordeal, but you'll leave thinking about big questions that deserve all the reflection they can get. That counts as a job well done by everyone involved with Plan-B's production.
Nothing Personal runs Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 3. For showtimes, tickets and more information, visit the Plan-B Theatre Company website.
(Photos by Rick Pollock, courtesy of Plan-B Theatre Company)