REVIEW: ‘American Underground’ at Barrington Stage Company sometimes compelling, sometimes wobbly
By Brent Askari
Directed by Julianne Boyd
Playwright Brent Askari’s “American Underground” takes place in “the not-so-distant future.” The U.S. government has segregated Arab-Americans (read: Muslims) in concentration camps. An underground railroad run secretly by a network of resistors assists American Muslims to escape the country. The government executes traitors, displaying their corpses in malls as object lessons to citizens who don’t conform.
Rog (Alan H. Green), African-American, teaches biology at a local university. His Latina wife, Anna (Natascia Diaz), is a librarian. They live a life as (ostensibly) as normal as they can in an ordinary suburban Florida house. Their major concern is the safety of their college-age son, Jeff (Justin Withers). They warn Jeff not to make any waves in public, as cameras are everywhere. Even if you witness an injustice, they tell him, stay quiet and “suck it up to survive.”
The tenuous normality of the household is turned upside-down when young Arab-American woman Sherri (Rasha Zamamiri) arrives seeking shelter on her underground journey to escape. When government security agent Kourtney (Kathleen McNenny) shows up and starts interrogating Rog, Anna and Jeff, who are hiding Sherri, Mr. Askari’s story really takes off.
Any more plot details will spoil the tension that director Julie Boyd achieves in this often compelling, sometimes wobbly, 85-minute drama. Some dialogue is off: trying to protect Jeff from Kourtney’s interrogation, Anna says, “ . . . innocence isn’t like a lost pet . . . once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.” The young Mr. Withers is particularly good as Jeff, but the play is at its best with the performance of Ms. McNenny as the cold, hateful government security agent. “American Underground” creates a Trumpian dystopia of horrific proportion and triggers visceral, primitive reactions that are startling.
American Underground plays at Barrington Stage Company’s Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through Saturday, Oct. 20. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, call the box office at (413) 236-8888 or go to barringtonstageco.org.