at the Culture Project
Is America deserting the idealistic Iraqis who sacrificed their safety and friendships to work in Baghdad's Green Zone? In Betrayed, the drama that George Packer has fashioned from his New Yorker article, the unfortunate answer is yes. Although it's an explosive exposé of shameful, even scandalous decisions, the play devolves into choppy snapshots that neither sustain a dramatic arc nor create characters who are more than attitudes. Even the title turns out to be generalized and misleading, rooted more in thesis than conflict.
Adnan and Laith are good friends even though the former is Sunni and the latter Shia. Told in flashback, the story has them desperately awaiting the clearance that will allow them to flee Iraq for somewhere, anywhere, as the United States refuses to shelter them. They're "in between heaven and hell…non-belongers" who put their faith in their American employers. Only one Foreign Service officer, Prescott, is not indifferent to their plight. In one teasing but red-herring scene—we expect more-complex motivations—he leaves the compound to immerse himself in Iraqi culture. What drama occurs involves Prescott's opposite, a nasty security officer who spends his waking hours looking for spies and conducting lie detector tests. More action than talk revolves around Intisar, a young Iraqi woman who loves the works of Emily Brontë and refuses to cover her head with a hijab.
Under Pippin Parker's firm direction, scenes and narration flow seamlessly together even though the play's structure is scattered. He elicits authentic performances from his actors: Sevan Greene as Laith, Waleed F. Zuaiter as Adnan, Aadya Bedi as Intisar, Mike Doyle as Prescott, Jeremy Beck as the security officer, and Ramsey Faragallah in a variety of roles. They convey a verisimilitude that matches Packer's journalistic ardor.
> Presented by and at the Culture Project,
> 55 Mercer St., NYC.
> Feb. 6–March 16. Mon., Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 3 p.m. (No performance Thu., Feb. 7.)
> (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com or www.cultureproject.org.
Reviewed by David A. Rosenberg