PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 24-30: The Political Season

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 24-30: The Political Season As recently as last fall, some critics were bemoaning how, at a time of political and social turmoil perhaps unmatched since the era of Vietnam and Watergate, the theatre was offering little in the way of pungent political drama or satire. Despite the odd Homebody/Kabul (written by Tony Kushner, easily argued as American's most political playwright), the few works to address our post-9/11 world were derailed as slight or flabby.

Perhaps it the oncoming Presidential race, but that situation appears to be changing, with a good number of potentially spiky productions on the horizon between now and the end of the season. The big surprise is that one can observe this shift in tone most clearly on Broadway, usually the haven of safe bets. And the outfit taking the biggest risk of all is the normally tame Roundabout Theatre Company. No one wishing to avoid critical heat would produce the Broadway premiere of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Assassins, a revue-like musical which examines—and not unsympathetically—the mindset and motivations of nine successful and would-be Presidential assassins. The disturbing and engrossing work debuts at Studio 54 on April 22, a few months before the Republican National Convention convenes in Manhattan.

Exactly one month before that premiere, performances will begin for first time playwright Eliam Kraiem's Jewish-Palestinian drama, Sixteen Wounded, at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre. Set in 1990s Holland, Sixteen Wounded traces the unlikely friendship between a Jewish baker and his young Palestinian apprentice. The U.S.'s war on terrorism has thrown a hotter-than-usual spotlight on the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, so this play will not pass without significant comment from theatre and political observers alike.

Also expect comparisons to be drawn between Sixteen Wounded and Betty Shamieh's Roar, another new play which looks at the life of a displaced Palestinian. In this Off-Broadway production, presented by The New Group, the lives of a Palestinian-American mother and her family living in Detroit are disrupted when a Kuwaiti relative is exiled and arrives at their home. The work is set in the early 1990s, following the first Gulf War.

Also sure to stir up some dust Off-Broadway is The Actors' Gang production of Tim Robbins' Embedded at the Public Theater, beginning Feb. 24. Robbins, who will direct, has been a lightning rod for criticism in conservative circles, which accuse the anti-war actor of an acute lack of patriotism. Robbins will not win over any of his detractors with this play, described as "a ripped-from-the-headlines satire about the madness surrounding the brave women and men on the front lines in a Mideast conflict. [It] skewers cynical embedded journalists, scheming government officials, a show-tune singing colonel, and the media's insatiable desire for heroes."

Also due Off-Broadway is Ears on a Beatle, the new Mark St. Germain play inspired by recently released FBI files on John Lennon, at the DR2 theatre beginning March 16. In a time of increased surveillance of Americans' lives, the story will likely resonate. And with arch-liberal Olympia Dukakis heading the cast of the Aquila Theatre Company's new staging of Aeschylus Trojan War tragedy Agamemnon, rest assured the production will not soft peddle its approach to battle and bloodshed. Oh, and as for Homebody/Kabul, the first major political play out of the gate, it's coming back. A reworked version, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Linda Emond, will run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music May 11-30.