Chicago Theatre Review
And Justice for All
Faceless – Northlight Theatre
A new Court drama at Northlight Theater
It is the human instinct, to level our fears and hatreds at an image. A flash man in a place of privilege, a woman in a hijab with rage in her heart, or a girl who wandered so far into the dark she came back a wolf. Playwright Selina Fillinger puts it this way, “We talk about terrorists as if they are always hooded figures murdering children. But what if they are children murdering children?” It’s hard to comprehend all the facets that questions of security, of justice, of faith and fathers, call forward. But Fillinger’s new court drama, Faceless, nursed from the headlines, holds them all.
The defendant at the bench is Susie Glenn (Lindsay Stock), an eighteen year old “wonder bread white” girl from Illinois, accused of pledging her life and loyalty to ISIS and carrying out violent jihad. The United States Government, invested in the body of Scott Bader (Timothy Edward Kane) has selected Claire Fathi (Susaan Jamshidi) an Iranian-American Harvard grad to put the appropriate face on the prosecution. Though unwilling to have her religion, her race, or her gender used to further Bader’s agenda, Claire is goaded into bringing the full broadside of the law against Susie’s defense lawyers Mark Arenberg (Ross Lehman) and her father Alan Glenn (Joe Dempsey).
Faceless is a pressure cooker court drama, like The Crucible or Inherit the Wind, sharp and funny and tragic. The Glenn trial may take months, wearing away and hollowing out the participants, but for the audience its a white-hot rush, caught in the crucible of John Culbert’s rubix cube court and percolated by Andre Pluess sound design. But the breathlessness rush pays off when the speed skating conversation suddenly wheels into a camel spin of profundity. These characters are smart people (though rarely glib), each with their own line of reasoning, and their arguments land with reverberations, while moments of danger or despair hold oceans in their silences. Even Reza, the eponymously anonymous ISIS soldier who woos Susie to the dark, makes points that are hard to discredit.
Jamshidi, when she can climb to the crest of the relentless wave, mingles the sharp-toothed desire to win (as American as everything else about Claire) and the eloquence of the righteous with compassion and conviction that prickles the eye with tears. She also leads a mincing tango with Kane who takes a steely pride in directing Claire sotto voce before the hungry press and training her up to be the perfect guardian of American law and American liberty, imagining himself the Higgins to her Doolittle (or the Palatine to her Skywalker, if you prefer). Stock gives us a squishy Susie, the fluttering pinned butterfly of a girl not in the best of mental health. Her portrayal of Susie’s faith in, though incomplete knowledge of, Islam is touchingly sincere and there are moments when she perfectly pitches how wise suffering has made her.
With every turn of the case, Faceless proves itself to be a sterling drama and a timely and timeless story. It may be about muslims in America, and the lure and danger of ISIS, but it is at its heart a look at where fear and hate come from, and why good people can be moved to do horrible things to each other. It’s characters speak with eloquence and clarity and truth of what they are, and spur each other on to make succinct and brutally elegant story. It is what it’s a about: a court and judgment, but there’s so much more than one soul on trial.
by Ben Kemper
North light Theater 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie.
(Accessible with brisk walk from Dempster Yellow Line or on bus 97 from Howard station)
85 mins with no intermission.
Tickets $30 – $81 (or run for the Northlight Rush and Ride Program for $20 plus a Lyft to the theater).
Call Box Office Box Office: 847-673-6300
Or purchase tickets at www.northlight.org
For more information on this and other productions, visit Theater in chicago.com