Debate is great, especially if it's done by experts. It is sometimes even fascinating when the debate is in one's own head and particularly playful if enacted by zany characters. But was this the concept intended by playwright Yussef El Guindi in his depiction of the extremes of "homeland security"?
Into the run-down, cluttered apartment of a young Arab named Khaled come two government officials, initially invited in but quickly proving unwelcome and difficult to oust. The situation is realistic, but the characters, particularly the officials, are highly exaggerated. The apparently strait-laced Bartlett, who detonates when dealing with Khaled's penchant for porn, trades off in the good cop-bad cop game with the thuggish Carl, who insists on speaking Arabic to Khaled, although Khaled speaks none.
So, as we watch the battle unfold, we wonder: Is it intended as an exaggerated rendition of the effects of government watchfulness, or does Guindi believe it accurately enacts real life, or does it indeed accurately show real life? After all, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that police armed with a warrant may enter a private residence without knocking. Or — and frankly this seems the most likely scenario — is the entire confrontation in the head of Khaled, who happens to be an articulate, thoughtful, imaginative, well-read writer (if that is not redundant)?
Enhancing the script is the tight direction, by Dรกmaso Rodriguez. The set and props, by Shawn Lee, and lighting, by Dan Jenkins, immediately set various scenes and keep the audience engaged and occasionally startled — particularly by the goings-on in Khaled's closet. Ammar Mahmood beautifully calibrates the sympathetic but mysterious Khaled. Anthony Di Novi is a blustery Bartlett; Doug Newell makes Carl both comedic and terrifying. Aly Mawji is the shadowy figure at the center of the investigation. And Vonessa Martin bats cleanup, taking on the women in Khaled's life — including an "all-American" stripper.
The back of the throat is where the "Kh" in Khaled's name is pronounced. It's also where words catch when we dare not say them aloud. But this production provokes a thoughtful debate in its audience. We may be stretching, but we could use a good stretch these days.
Presented by Furious Theatre Company at the Pasadena Playhouse Balcony Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Thu.-Sat 8 p.m., Sun. 7:30 p.m. Jun. 24-Jul. 29. (626) 356-7529.