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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Old Vic Theatre       January-February 2009

In Joe Sutton's new play an American journalist who wrote a book exposing the War on Terror's use of torture faces prison for refusing to name his sources.

His refusal on principle is complicated by his guilt at having been caught up in the post-9/11 mania and originally arguing in favour of torture, and he fears that he helped set in motion the deep violation of American values whose almost incidental victim he is now about to become.

The play consists entirely of scenes with his wife and lawyer as they debate whether he should name names and he tries to find a way to assuage his conscience and still stay out of jail - and perhaps you can see a problem there.

Playwrights like Michael Frayn and David Hare can make the passionate expression and exchange of ideas dramatic, but too much of Sutton's text feels like editorial footnotes to a play that is really going on elsewhere (in the never-seen courtroom, or an offstage encounter between the reporter and his source).

Without much actually happening before us except for a lot of hand-wringing, the play feels thin, and even at well under two hours (including a long interval) there's a recurring sense of the playwright marking time, stretching or padding.

Even the most intense scenes are full of portentous pauses as the characters ponder their words.

Rumour has it that some of those pauses might be the result of one or more of the actors never quite learning their lines, and indeed star Richard Dreyfuss is visibly wearing an earphone through which he is presumably being fed some of his cues.

But it is also clear that director Kevin Spacey wants the characters - and the audience - to have time to think about the implications of what's being discussed.

And if some of the tension Richard Dreyfuss brings to the central role is a result of the actor's nervousness, it does serve the character, the occasional fumbling for words reflecting the way the man is being torn by conflicting emotions and a wavering confidence in his own rightness and innocence.

Elizabeth McGovern (looking lovely and more like Dreyfuss's daughter than his spouse) is given little more to play than generic Worried Wife, while David Suchet's lawyer is written with too much ambiguity and secret agenda to make a whole lot of sense from scene to scene.

But director Spacey astutely always keeps the focus on the immediate moment so that, while you may not fully understand (or believe) what the characters are so passionate about, you will always believe the truth of their passion.

Gerald Berkowitz

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