BWW Review: UNRELIABLE at Kansas City Repertory Theatre
The annual ORIGINKC Festival of new plays presented by the Kansas City Repertory Theatre kicked off Friday, May 3 with a baffling yet engrossing piece titled "Unreliable" by playwright Dipka Guha. "Unreliable" explores the characters and relationships between three individuals who are initially presented as a female attorney, a man held without formal charge as an enemy combatant, and the attorney's Mother.
The three characters of "Unreliable" can be viewed from one or many points of view. Each interpretation is as valid as any other. Playwright Guha has left her audience members that much room to take from the play exactly what they think they see and what registers inside their own individual frames of reference.
I will pose some of the possibilities in a moment, but the most salient point for a potential audience member is that we all live in our own realities. We see all that lives around us through a very particular lens. Dipka Guha was born in the nation of India and grew up on the Indian subcontinent, in the Russian Federation, and in the United Kingdom. She did her undergraduate work in the UK and has achieved advanced degrees in the United States. This does not make her lens more accurate than those of her audience members. It does make her starting place by definition different. Guha views America as many in the rest of the world may view her.
The playwright does not attempt to change minds as much as she strives to open up options. There are a bunch. That is the genius of "Unreliable;" the plethora of interpretations.
None of this works without extraordinary performances from the three actors in the play. Guha is fortunate to be blessed in this premiere production with better than excellent performances from Jessalyn Kincaid as Gretchen, Amro Salama as Yusuf, and Jan Rogge as Hattie. The technical staff creates a simple environment where all can occur and Director Ailin Conant gives her cast enough room to explore their characters.
Gretchen is the attorney. It becomes evident that she has at least two obvious clients. They are Noor and Yusuf.
Noor is a Muslim woman (who we never see) living in Wisconsin now seeking a divorce from her arranged marriage after baring three children. Gretchen appears to have formed a romantic attachment to Noor even though they have never met. Gretchen and Noor communicate almost exclusively via voice mail.
Yusuf has been imprisoned by the U.S. government without charge as a potential terrorist for the last ten years in an island prison existent only to assure the man has no legal rights. He is an educated person who speaks multiple languages. Yusuf may be an innocent hoovered up in the Middle East wars or he could be the worst of the worst.
Hattie is Gretchen's adoptive Mother. They live together and our first impression is that she may be sliding downhill into some kind of dementia. Or she may be someone who would have turned in her Jewish neighbors after Krystallnacht. She may be a patriot. Or she may be someone whose gut feeling of potential guilt awakens a paranoia malevolent enough for her to notify authorities.
Gretchen may be a dutiful daughter. She may be a wannabe Lesbian. She may be an attorney as she claims or she may be the legal secretary her Mother believes her to be or she may be a government agent covertly attempting to force a confession from Yusuf. Does she eventually fall in love with Yusuf? Does she become the image of Yusuf's long abandoned wife, Noor? Or is Gretchen the instrument of Yusuf's eventual execution?
Unseen Noor is found out by her Muslim husband and is presented as the victim of an horrific honor killing. Was she in love with Gretchen or was she a fantasy? Was Gretchen the only distant lover or were there a succession of Gretchens, both male and female?
Is "Unreliable" a screed against American imperialism, a current political statement, or a comment on fake news? The possible ways of looking at this work are as varied as unseen "M" class planets in a galaxy far away. As I made my way out of the theater, I thought of a quirky, old TV series starring the late David Carradine as a Shaolin monk adrift in the old West on a constant quest for truth. Flashbacks to his childhood religious training always asked a universe bending question. The answer was always the same. "It is a puzzlement, Grasshopper," said his wise old teacher. And so it goes.
ORIGINKC continues Saturday May 4 with an original production of "Frida" by and starring Vanessa Severo. Both "Unreliable" and "Frida" continue in repertory through May 19. Tickets are available at www.kcrep.org or by telephone at 816-235-2700.