Civilian hostages (Lloyd Pedersen and Bert Emmett) kidnapped by Islamic… (Sherry Netherland )
Depending on your point of view, the enduring topicality of Frank McGuinness’ 1992 Middle East hostage drama, “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me,” can be seen as a testament to either the play’s thematic depth or to the depressingly unsolvable problems it depicts. The ambiguity is appropriate, given McGuinness’ intent to depict an all-too realistic tragedy in terms of existential psychology rather than ideology — a goal taken to heart in a gritty revival from NoHo’s the Group Rep.
Loosely based on Brian Keenan’s memoir of his four years of captivity in Beirut during the late 1980s, the play unfolds in the claustrophobic confines of a squalid basement cell guarded by unseen Islamic fundamentalists.
Abandoned by their respective governments three kidnapped civilians — a brash, burly Irishman (Bert Emmett), a prissy British academic (Lloyd Pedersen) and a haunted African American doctor (Evan L. Smith) — go Shaw’s famous quote one better in representing three countries divided by a common language. Occasional accent lapses notwithstanding, the performances are touching in showing their efforts to keep their humanity and their sanity alive.
The play itself hasn’t aged as well as its subject matter, however. Despite director Gregg T. Daniel’s success in creating some very powerful moments, there are only so many scenes of imaginary letter-writing, moviemaking, cocktail-drinking, tennis matches and escape fantasies we can sit through before the core message — that all these prisoners have to keep going is their imaginations — starts to give way to a sense of shared incarceration.
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“Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me,” Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 2. $22. (818) 763-5990 or www.thegrouprep.com. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.