The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern continues its concern with the dark and difficult in its new production, Donald. Adapted from the novel by Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott by UNC Performance Studies assistant professor Tony Perucci — he also directed — the play attempts to show what might happen if American government power-wielder Donald Rumsfeld were subjected to the kind “extreme rendition” and torture suffered by some prisoners in the “war on terror.”
As I watched this play trying to balance theatrical aesthetics with the filthy horror of power’s evil in combating evil, I wondered frequently whether it would make sense to viewers after the short time it will take for Rumsfeld’s name to fade from general consciousness. This play makes sense to us because we know who Rumsfeld is, we know the nasty not-so-secret of the masters of war — of these wars that have brocaded the past decade with blood. Perhaps Donald will make sense in another year or century in which war masters with other names prevail; perhaps it is too topical. Certainly, it relies on our prior knowledge: the script does not inform us of all we need to know.
And, very unusually for LGP, and oddly for the subject matter, this play is coolly intellectual, its presentation far from the visceral, explosive physicality of many of LGP’s shows. I did not feel horror, dread, humiliation; did not scent the stink of fear or degradation. I did not even feel the panic of being caged. It was all remarkably remote.
In a way, this is good — an opportunity to think this stuff through, without the passionate drama of good vs. evil (which is which?) pulling us around. But shouldn’t we feel something about torture, even if it is only shame in wishing it on the torturer?
However, there is much to admire in the production. Jay O’Berski gives a very smooth, controlled performance as Donald, and, in a clever device, Dana Marks gives us Donald’s interior voice (Rummy) from a microphone off-stage. She is dressed in a gray suit, as is Donald at the beginning, and maintains that well-armored identity even as Donald is captured, stripped, imprisoned, beaten, and tortured, only disappearing when Donald emerges from the abandoned prison installation in the play’s last moment. It is unclear whether Donald makes his way out into the blinding light of freedom or the white light of death.
The ensemble is also strong. It is always such a pleasure (no matter the subject) to see Jeffrey Detwiler and O’Berski together on the stage. They go way back, and it shows in their seamless interactions and excellent stage chemistry. J Evarts does her quick-change, multiple role thing with aplomb — will someone please give her a big meaty role and let her chew the scenery in just one wig? Likewise with Lucius Robinson. He brings so much to minor bits — I’d like to see him lead. Rajeev Rajendran has matured enormously; he was particularly good as an interrogating officer and in the preposterous musical outburst that leavened the show. Two able younger actors, Brycen Mccrary and Caroline Culbertson, filled out the ensemble.
The action takes place in and around a box made of video by the talented Alex Maness. The overall set design is by Sir Lionel Mouse, aka Jay O’Berski, with sound and lighting by Quran Karriem and Rick Young, respectively. It is all very interesting and effective in its clean, crisp way… but bloodless.
The show continues through 2/11. For details, see the sidebar.