Alternative Methods is a world premiere work in which Patricia Davis examines the role of psychologists involved in interrogation and torture of an Iraqi prisoner. While the play stacks the deck a little more than needed, thanks to a strong cast, the play is mostly successful dramatizing and illuminating important ethical issues.
An Iraqi doctor is taken into custody at a checkpoint when found driving after curfew from the direction of an insurgent controlled area. The military believes that he might have treated an Al-Qaeda leader and needs to locate his safe house quickly to prevent another wave of terrorist bombings. A young psychologist named Susan Fulton (Julie Kline) is brought in to assist the interrogation team, consisting of veteran psychologist Robert Wolf (John Greenleaf) and ex-CIA/private contractor Mike Flemming (Charlie Kelvin).
Fulton quickly bonds with the prisoner, Mohammad A-Badrani (Alok Tewari), and starts to believe his innocence. That belief, her distaste at deceiving him by pretending to be a legal assistant, and her revulsion at Flemming’s strong arm tactics cause her to question the ethics of the interrogation. Before the play concludes we learn about awful techniques used in the attempt to extract information and see their human costs.
Alok Tewari leads an outstanding all-Equity cast. His physical and psychological suffering is powerfully portrayed. In the midst of his discussions with Fulton about why he is maintaining his silence, he smoothly delivers the most thoughtful arguments against torture. Charlie Kevin is convincing in his role as the experienced interrogator and John Greenleaf does well in his thankless job as the mouthpiece for government policy. Hend Ayoub has a small but intense role as the doctor’s wife which she carries off admirably.
Patricia Davis apparently set the play in 2007 so she could incorporate and criticize standards that the American Psychological Association adopted that year on the role psychologists can play in supporting prisoner interrogation. The play might have been more intellectually interesting if it had been set earlier in the conflict when the issues were more wide open, also sparing us from dialogue about the Supreme Court decisions on granting prisoners habeas corpus rights and giving them Geneva Convention protections. From a dramatic perspective, the play also could have been stronger if the potential for Mohammad’s guilt had been greater or Fulton’s own psychological damage had been handled with more subtlety.
These are mostly minor quibbles to a solid and involving production. From the initial capture to the lengthy interrogation sequences, the staging is convincing. The ability to flip around the detention room set facilitates an intimate focus on the prisoner and the interrogators.
The production may wear its heart on its sleeve, but it is a well-meaning heart that is behind the play. While many of these issues have been played out in public, Alternative Methods is an interesting and thought-provoking option for Fringe audiences.
Written and Produced by Patricia Davis
Directed by Josh Liveright
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
[Further information about this play, along with current updates on the issue of torture can be found on the show’s Web site.]
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Did you see the show? What did you think?