By Ann Chamberlin
Directed by Melody Brooks
New Perspectives Theatre Company
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Maya T. Amis

Jihad is an original play depicting a fictitious meeting between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, fabled opponents during the Crusades. As they meet to negotiate an end to the seemingly interminable wars, they must struggle to bridge great gaps of culture and personality. A mysterious woman joins them; in turns pleading, bedeviling, and seducing, she is Everywoman. By her presence and participation, she points out the ultimate futility and evil of war while simultaneously making it clear that the war between East and West is nothing compared to the one between men and women.

The two kings are, literally, worlds apart. Each distrusts the other (with cause) but each expresses it very differently. Where Saladin' s ingrained hospitality demands ritualized politeness, Richard' s bluff soldier is openly antagonistic. Eventually the two are able to engage in a form of veiled negotiation where everything said has several meanings. Chess games become a matter of life and death; even the offer of a glass of wine is freighted with significance.

The play is beautifully written. The text is poetic without sounding forced, and its many layers of meaning make it fascinating and complex. Ann Chamberlin is an archaeologist and novelist as well as a playwright. Her expertise in different cultures is apparent not so much in hyper-realism of detail but in an understanding so deep as to be simply a part of the fabric of the play. With the loaded issues of cultural and gender differences (not to mention the appearance of a Goddess-like figure), Jihad could have been a painfully didactic exercise in political correctness. Chamberlin' s lightness of touch avoids this pitfall entirely.

Melody Brooks directed with discernment and understanding. Her vision of the interaction among the characters was clear and consistent, and she took full advantage of the intricacies of the script while making sure that it was completely comprehensible. Collette Wilson, as the Woman, was remarkable in her lightning shifts of mood and character. She was provocative in all senses of the word and handled a difficult role with elegance. Albert Michael Goudy' s Saladin was compelling and graceful. He was always clearly a fully-realized person with flaws to match his remarkable strengths and was completely believable as a warrior as well as a leader. Charles Wayne Loflin played Richard as a brutish and suspicious lout, and he was very good at doing so. He was not convincing as a life-long soldier and seemed to be one-dimensional, especially in comparison with the other two. Certainly Richard the Lionheart was not a paragon, but he was a pretty good warrior and clearly a very complex individual. This problem is in large part a matter of interpretation; another director or another actor might interpret this role differently.

The overall quality of this production was first-rate. It was staged in the round, with the floor a distorted chessboard scattered with cushions. The walls and ceiling were draped in luxurious fabrics, suggesting an exotic tent. Costumes were similarly sumptuous. Melissa Bruning, who designed both set and costumes, is clearly very skilled at making more from less. While it was clear that she did not have an unlimited budget, her design and execution were convincing and attractive. Jason A. Cina' s lighting was uncomplicated and appropriate and David Dean Hastings' fight direction was highly competent and occasionally startling.

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 Maya T. Amis

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