"Skin For Skin" @ The Agency Theater Collective

"Skin For Skin" @ The Agency Theater Collective

Theater Review by Jerald Raymond Pierce  

2 out of 4 

Skin For Skin, a world premiere play by Paul Pasulka, is a very angry play. It’s a play that is following a likely theme that new plays will have in the coming years. It’s the right of playwrights and artists alike to take strong stands regarding the choices and direction of their countries and governments. But at some point, there has to be more than anger present. That’s where this play is stunted. It fails to make a point beyond saying “America is a jerk, especially regarding its military ethics and treatment of other cultures.” This play goes hard after the military’s treatment of minorities overseas (making sure to comment on those who may even be American citizens) and dives heavily into torture as a measure of extracting information.

The problem is, it’s all very surface. There is no opportunity to learn or grow from this play. In a sense it’s almost emotion porn. Sure, watching torturous interrogation tactics “enacted” on an actor is uncomfortable, but without a deeper reason, it winds up feeling like a cheap way to elicit emotion. On top of this, there is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” storyline that feels shoehorned in and really creates a mess of storytelling.

The best example of the hodgepodge that this play was at times was the following sequence: Col. Lewis (Tony St. Clair) has Ayyub (Steve Silver) in his office, accusing him of working with terrorists behind the military’s back. Lewis then proceeds to go through Ayyub’s bag and belongings. Then there’s a long transition where two soldiers go to Ayyub’s office and tear the place apart followed by a probably less than a minute scene where the military captures Ayyub, puts a bag over his head and takes him back to Lewis’ office. Before they get there, though, there is another incredibly long transition as they clean up the mess they just made. Then, the most mind numbing part about the sequence: the next scene in Lewis’ office has Lewis going through the same bag of Ayyub’s again. 

Sure, there were some differences in the fact that the first time going through the bag was more a slimy invasion of privacy by the military while the second was downright hostile, but from a narrative standpoint the play was treading water. More time was spent in transition than in scenes. It was disjointed to say the least. This only added to the frustration of a plot that didn’t build to a definite point. I kept asking what the major dramatic question was. What is that driving force that keeps me wanting to know what is going to happen in the next scene? The only reasonable answer is: Will Ayyub be able to convince the military of his innocence? But there’s no chance of that. This script is a continual assault on Ayyub’s life without a single glimmer of hope.

Despite this, Silver provides an impressive performance. His performance was one that was so easy, natural, and honest that it can make an audience feel like they’re spying on someone’s real life for a second. Shariba Rivers’ Dr. O’Brien also delivers a very nice performance despite the shortcomings of the script with her character. The rest of the acting was inconsistent. The actors wrestled with Pasulka’s script that repeated conversations and questions they already had the answer to while director Michael Menendian’s direction led to unmotivated hostile actions. All of this while trying to make these characters into believable human beings.

There’s a version of this play that could be gut wrenching. There’s a version of this play that makes an audience sit and take a good long look at what has been allowed within the American military when it comes to interrogation techniques. Without a cathartic ending that finds a way to put a bow of a final meaning on the rest of the play, there’s not much here right now. Artists should always come from a passionate place when creating their art. However, the skill in that artistry comes from honing that passion (and occasional anger) into a clear creation that can convey the artist’s thoughts and intentions to an audience. This play still needs to take that next step. 

The Agency Theater Collective presents the world premiere of Skin For Skin, written by Paul Pasulka and directed by Michael Menendian, February 28  – April 2, at the Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge Ave. The performance schedule is Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. The running time is 90 minutes, without intermission. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit WeAreTheAgency.org or call 773.680.4596. More information is also available at www.theatreinchicago.com.

Jerald Raymond Pierce is a journalist, stage manager, actor, director, and playwright in the Chicago area with an MA in Arts Journalism from Syracuse University and a BFA in Acting from Ohio University. He also is a contributor to American Theatre magazine and an editor for ShowSnob.com. When he’s not spending unnecessary amounts of money on sports tickets, theatre tickets, and random travels, he’s probably ranting about Doctor Who, time travel, and the general merits of current television and movie writers.