For a show to really work, the director needs to have a passion for and commitment to the script. When such a marriage occurs, there is a chemistry and excitement that flows out to the audience.
Emma Dowd definitely has that sort of passion for Frank McGuinness' Someone to Watch Over Me. It's something that is obvious in talking to her and is obvioius in seeing the performance at Riverwalk.
The two-act play explores how men survive as prisoners of war. In this 1992 play set in the mid-1980s (and I'm committing the sin here of writing about a show without the program handy--so I'll have to correct any spelling or name errors later), Edward, Michael, and Adam are held hostages in Beiruit, Lebanon. Michael (David Bristol) is an British professor of English. Edward (Jack Dowd) is an Irish journalist and Adam (Kevin Knights) is an American doctor.
This is one of those plays that is inspired by a true story (that of former hostage Brian Keenan) but doesn't claim to be a documentary. Instead, what it does is force you to feel their claustrophobia and fear. One of the lasting impressions of the play is that it is long, a feeling that really has nothing to do with the play's pacing or the time that ticks by on the clock. Rather, it is because you end up feeling such empathy for the characters on stage. The actors make you believe that you have been in this cell with them for months and lay upon the audience the heavy cloak of despair that accompanies that.
In some ways, I was reminded of how thirsty I became when reading Frank Herbert's Dune. There are so many details that communicate the extremes being suffered. It creates an immediacy that brings the audience into sympathy with the players on stage.
This is a show that can be difficult to direct. It's got a lot of substance to it and blocking is limited by the fact that all three actors are chained to the wall. Despite the chains, they manage to create a great deal of movement--Adam is constantly exercising, Edward paces and moves with a barely suppressed antagonism, Michael dodders and withdraws.
The accents are a necessity in a play in which three different nationalities are brought together, though it did take some time to get over the artificiality introduced by the marked accents which were obviously not native to the actors' tongues.
Someone to Watch Over Me is a psychological drama that really does transcend the political events of either the play or our current world. Yes, people are still being taken hostage, but the face of that hostage-taking is constantly changing. What transcends the individual setting are those universal things the characters struggle with: regret over things left unsaid and undone, fear and hopelessness, how we treat each other in extreme circumstances whether it be to help each other or to turn against each other, and what our coping mechanisms are.
There are many moments of genuine humor as the trio turns to flights of fantasy to keep their sanity and to find ways to connect with each other. It's a humor that leavens an otherwise heavy show.
More common are the intense dramatic moments, ones that the actors carefully build up to so that even when the inevitable happens, the audience is not bored by the outcome.
It's a fascinating show that provides a lot to think about. I'm glad I went.