Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thinking Man's Passport

Summer theater is rarely the moment for thoughtful reflection.  But Kevin Kostic's new play Passport is a thoughtful meditation on cultural conflict and the vagaries of mid-life crisis.  Produced by the Theatrical Mining company at Load of Fun Theater on North Avenue, the play is a new entry in this year's Baltimore Playwrights Festival.

The play pivots around the mid-life crisis of Jeff, a humanitarian worker who finds himself in personal crisis on two different continents.  In Kenya, he must confront rioting mobs contesting a recent presidential election and driving the country back to its ancient tribal conflicts.  Two Kenyan sisters, Kioni and Louisa, occupying his Kenya apartment under siege force Jeff to face the limits of his humanitarian interventions and confront a political violence he cannot fathom.  Back in his Washington, DC apartment, Jeff must face his deteriorating marriage to Nancy, an ambitious teacher who is on the verge of deserting her increasingly distant spouse.

Ably directed by Barry Feinstein, the cast successfully realizes the potential of the conflict-ridden characters.  Mike Ware delivers an utterly convicing peformance as Jeff.  Even his gestures and facial expressions exude the anguish of a middle-aged relief worker who can no longer fathom the politics of the world in which he lives and the emotional enigma of his failing marriage.  Ama Brown (Kioni) and Mahogany Ayot Eerised (Louisa) bring out the sharp rivalry between the dueling sisters and the bitter conflict in the sisters' philosophies.  The pragmatic Louisa insists that compromise is good and necessary in one's professional and political choices; the fiery Louisa insists on a purer but more violent and nihilist creed rooted in tribal loyalty.  Enhancing their conflict is the mural painted by David Cunningham; it vividly represents the angry mob outside ready to devour the characters at any moment.  Claire Bowman empathetically portrays Nancy, the confused wife who can no longer tolerate the growing silence and distraction of her husband.

The script could still use further work.  At moments the dialogue becomes preachy, as when the sparring sisters deliver a predictable tirade against the failures of humanitarian projects in their home vilage and when Nancy tries to help her husband "become yourself" as their conflict comes to a climax.  The soapbox doesn't seem far from the efficient set in such passages.  But these are minor flaws in a play which intelligently probes a man in simultaneous political and romantic mid-life meltdown and which sets the conflict in the unusual world of international relief organizations.