darkly illuminated Language Rooms

Sedition, loyalty and betrayal are just some of the themes of Yussef el Guindi politically explosive drama Language Rooms, in its premiere at the Wilma Theatre. El Guindi bounded into the lobby before a preview this week and said that even though the play deals with government interrogations and images of humiliation, he doesn’t avoid comic elements that the grim realities present.

His mix of international discourse and emotional identity, post 9/11, packs a dramatic punch in the gut, at the same time plot twists play with your head.

“It’s a dark humor, it’s from the absurdities…we live with that arises from some of these political and bureaucratic decisions that I try to convey in this play.” Guindi said.

The playwright is British and has been living in the US for 25 years. He is sensitive to Arab and Muslim relations and how they have played out in Western countries. 

 The Wilma continues its commitment to political and socially relevant theater. This is his first collaboration with Wilma director Blanka Zizka, who doesn‘t balk at commercially controversial material. “I’ve noticed during previews that people don’t know, in certain spots, if it is all right to laugh.” 

 Language Rooms about US policies on prisoner interrogation, among other very hot topics are part of the story. It takes place “in one of these so called black sites where prisoners are brought to be interrogated and while it is not about that specifically, it’s more about questions of identity, fitting in and immigration.”

Narratively, el Guindi circles these spikey issues like a steel eyed matador who doesn‘t miss a kill. “To start off with Arabs and Muslims, it is already kind of a divisive subject. Given negative press and all that has happened. Add the torture and interrogation. …it is tangentially about all of these subjects.” 

 “I believe I do that by presenting three dimensional characters. Presenting.. . the whole spectrum.”  Illuminating that spectrum in Language Rooms is an multi-media production design, Zizka’s direction and tore de force lead performances by Sevan Greene as the Arab-American interrogator, Ahmed and Nassar Faris as the interrogatee, Samir.