In his play The B Team, David Holstein, who, it should be noted also writes scripts for the Showtime series “Weeds”, asks and partially answers a question kind of fundamental to our times: can terrorists—and terrorism and suicide bombers—be funny?
The answer will likely come out as something like this: well, yeah, kinda, maybe, sometimes, are you kidding me?, or “Sure, but I’ll deny that I ever said such a thing.”
Answers like that are framed by the post-9/11 zeitgeist and the questions come up when you go see The B-Team which concerns itself with a group of hapless, sappy, ineffectual members of a terrorist cell stranded in Buffalo and Snooki territory.
Terrorists be damned—and they should be—The B Team is actually very funny in spots, a little sick in others, and sometimes it just makes you feel queasy. What Holstein manages to do is make fun of and satirize terrorists, a notoriously humorless bunch as a rule, and, perhaps even more discomfiting, suggests that they might be human, which is to say funny, dumb, confused and in love, and at least as recognizable as the fellas in “The Hangover”, parts one and two. Neither approach is endearing neither to true-blue or even quasi-patriotic folks (meaning almost all of us) or to terrorists and religious fanatics.
The play has been produced before in the delightfully named Dad’s Garage Theatre in Atlanta. Landless Theatre is an ideal company to bring this kind of material here because 1) it’s a French-kissing cousin to the completely tasteless and unpredictable Cherry Red Productions company and 2) it has an honorable—or dishonorable, depending—tradition of foolishness and fearlessness.
The B Team concerns a ragtag cell of a network led by a just awful man from an unknown location—could it be?—named Abu. They have been missioned to blow up Niagara Falls, no less, in a mass suicide jump and they’ve been saddled with a true-blue-hard-core commissar named Sadiq, who carries with him a secret agenda, because, like so many institutions in these troubled times, Abu is downsizing.
Here’s the B Team—and all of them look nothing much like typical terrorists, except in the most obvious cheap-prop sort of way. There’s Mohammed (Nick Hagy), a torn, lost, lonely and indecisive type who’s always thumbs-up because: ta-dum, he can’t get his thumbs down, not a good thing for a guy who works with detonators. There’s the shrill, crazy, homophobic Ammad (Matthew Baughman), who is actually—can you imagine—gay and gets the hots for the group’s cool guy, Abdul (Michael Greenan), the guy who would probably jump over the Falls if there’s a Chico’s at the bottom. There is the secretive, stern Sadiq (John Tweel), and last but not least, Brian (Evan Crump), the lone Jewish terrorist and Jersey boy to the core.
Well, what the h is going on here? What’s going on is a subversive and longish SNL kind of skit done up as a play. Sometimes, as befits the location, there are unfortunate body parts left laying around. There is love, betrayal, snarkiness of a superior kind, there is bungling and bundling and kissing.
Because the actors are so good, you’re roped into, cripes, caring about the fate of the characters. Evan Crump, for instance, makes Brian so endearing and sweet in spite of the cliché Jewish mother-hating that you start to fear for him and the romance between Ammad and Abdul takes on a life of its own. You feel for the haunted Mohammad, and you hate the evil, diluted orange juice drinking Abu (Rob Heinly), mostly for continually calling his dog Hitler and insulting Sadiq’s true love.
It all ends not so well, in a closing which includes some needless but horribly funny riffs on the M-F word. And it’s all sort of been a dream, the kind of thing that needs a nice little musical production and song-and-dance number to close it. And so it has. Hooray, after all.
I think The B Team suffers too from unfortunate timing, what with Navy Seals putting an end to Osama Bin Laden, the ghost in our dream machine.
I kept thinking, through the course of the play, if the script wasn’t like something they’d found at the secret hideout, not as a play but a kind of memoir, right next to the pornography cache. I mean, what if terrorists are as dumb as World War I generals, what if they ate Rice Krispies in Buffalo and spent too much time at the local strip joint and entertained doubts about many things, including the existence of virgins?
Landless Theatre Company’s The B Team runs thru June 19, 2011 at the DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St NW, Washington, DC.
The B Team
by David Holstein
Directed by Bob Bartlett
Produced by Landless Theatre Company
Reviewed by Gary Tischler
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes