BWW Review: ACT's PEOPLE OF THE BOOK is Filled with Delicious Surprises
If you're an aficionado of theater here in Seattle, then you've probably heard of Yussef El Guindi or at least seen one of his plays. An ACT 2018 core member, this prolific writer has had numerous plays around Seattle and beyond. And when reading the synopsis of his current piece making its World Premiere at ACT, "People of the Book", you may think you know what to expect and what hot button topics he'll hit upon. And he does. But he also manages some literary acrobatics bringing in surprise after surprise making this a deliciously complicated show with an ending that may leave you with more questions than when you came in.
From the beginning he sets a slightly uneasy tone as jealousy swirls surrounding three old high school friends, one of whom has returned from the war and has told his harrowing story in a highly regarded memoir. Jason (Quinlan Corbett) never had all that much going for him and coveted much around him including a relationship with Lynn (Sydney Andrews) who was and is still in a relationship with his friend Amir (Wasim No'mani). Amir always had the girl and Amir was the better writer. But now years later Amir is a struggling poet with a struggling artist as his wife and Jason has come home with a celebrated book and a movie deal in the works. Jason also brings with him his new wife Madeeha (Monika Jolly), the Iraqi woman he rescued and who is heavily featured in the book. But amidst all the adulation, Amir begins to question the veracity of the events in the book. Is it jealousy or did he make it all up?
El Guindi along with director John Langs artfully dole out nuggets of the truth along with repeated moments of betrayal making the play build to a seething climax. But it's a climax I never saw coming which made it all the more exciting. Each moment unperceptively builds on the previous one, until they manage to slap you in the face at the end. And the journey is filled with so many "oh no he didn't!" moments that you might think you're watching some trashy reality TV show. More than once, I, along with the rest of the audience, cringed at some offhand remark or lascivious act making an extremely engaging evening.
The four person ensemble do a beautiful job never giving anything away too early. Andrews and No'mani have a fantastic chemistry which makes the disturbance in their relationship more painful. Andrews delivers a fantastic air of searching for something better with her character and No'mani brings in a wonderful feeling of the stalwart husband as well as giving an incredible dream sequence character. Corbett manages a stirring performance as a broken man suffering PTSD as well as trying to keep too many secrets. But it's Jolly who blew me away. On the surface she's likable and clever and delivers her lines with astonishing timing but then reveals herself to have so much more complexity and nuance than we thought. And her final moments are absolutely stunning and worth the price of admission.
I love that a play can still surprise me like this and when one does, I need to give it its due. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give ACT's World Premiere of "People of the Book" a "still geeking out about those final moments" YAY+. Plays like this only prove why El Guindi is so popular and why we're lucky he's based here.
"People of the Book" performs at ACT through September 29th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-231-5853 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.