Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of AMERICAN UNDERGROUND at Barrington Stage
Barrington Stage Company (BSC) continues its 25th Anniversary Season with the World Premiere of the Bonnie & Terry Burman New Play Award Winner, American Underground by Brent Askari.
In the not-so-distant future, an interracial couple enjoys a visit from their college-aged son when a young Muslim woman arrives at their back door. She's looking for safe passage via a new Underground Railroad as Muslims are being detained and imprisoned. Suddenly, a government official knocks on their door, wreaking havoc on the family. They must decide how much to risk to save an innocent woman. This riveting thriller takes us inside a stark vision of an unapologetic America.
The cast features Alan H. Green (BSC's Broadway Bounty Hunter) as "Rog," Natascia Diaz (Signature Theatre's Passion, 2019 Helen Hayes Award) as "Anna," Justin Withers (Shakespeare's Globe As You Like It) as "Jeff," Rasha Zamamiri ("Madam Secretary"; "Blue Bloods") as "Sherri" and Kathleen McNenny (BSC's The Birds) as "Kourtney."
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Marc Savitt, BroadwayWorld: This production is, in a word - "tight". The many facets and elements of the script, costuming, sound, lighting, sets, direction, and cast are all notable in their own right. This is a case where they come together and the whole is, indeed, greater than the sum of the parts. The result is 90-minutes of powerful, intense, and frighteningly plausible theatre that is engaging, emotional, intriguing, important, and regardless of your politics or point-of-view, well worth seeing.
J. Peter Bergman, The Berkshire Edge: I don't know when I've liked a political polemic more. This play would make up my mind for me on issues that, like most of us, I would choose to ignore or pass over with a shrug. Don't talk to me about this play until you've seen it. The reality it projects is close at hand and I witness its growth every morning on my TV. See it! It will be 90 minutes out of your life that could someday save your life or mine. But don't do it for me. See it for yourself. And call PBS, call HBO, call Netflix. Everyone needs to see this play.
Dan Dwyer, The Berkshire Edge: Any more plot details will spoil the tension that director Julie Boyd achieves in this often compelling, sometimes wobbly, 85-minute drama. Some dialogue is off: trying to protect Jeff from Kourtney's interrogation, Anna says, " . . . innocence isn't like a lost pet . . . once it's gone, you can't get it back." The young Mr. Withers is particularly good as Jeff, but the play is at its best with the performance of Ms. McNenny as the cold, hateful government security agent. "American Underground" creates a Trumpian dystopia of horrific proportion and triggers visceral, primitive reactions that are startling.
Steve Barnes, Times Union: Though the actors generally handle the verbal and emotional explosions as convincingly as they can, Askari's writing feels fundamentally unfair. The agent, in her address to the audience some minutes before she enters the story proper, says "there are many sides to any story and ... and you're seeing little selective snippets. So, of course, what you're going to see is inherently biased." But a better play would not have been so biased against the agent, and we as an audience could have had a more nuanced, complex response had Askari given her a chance to better make her case. But he didn't, so we don't. The result is darn close to propaganda, and that's bad, coming from the right or the left.
Bob Goepfert, Saratogian: Fear of the future might make compelling theater, but to be effective in solving social problems it also needs to offer peaceful solutions. This is a virtue lacking in Askari's writing. I don't want to live in the world of the play. Neither do I want society believing violence is an answer to anything. I'd much rather see a play that is a rational plea for peace and understanding with positive solutions.