It seems like many of the most powerful works about crises come out of the middle of them, rather than being written or sung or painted with the benefit of hindsight. Certainly no single work of art can capture more than a millisecond of the situation, especially one as complex and long-lasting as the Middle East. But in Human Terrain, which received its world premiere on August 29 in the respectful arms of Mustard Seed Theatre, we have a look at Fallujah in the mid-2000's.
And more specifically, it's a look at a woman in the middle of the conflict - not an Iraqui, but an American woman, a civilian employee attached to a military unit. She's an anthropologist, brought in to do mapping of the human terrain - there is such a project - in order to better understand the country, and presumably its power structure on a micro as well as a macro scale.
Mabry (a first name, pronounced with a long "a"), played by Melisssa Gerth, seems slightly more self-assured than a PhD fresh from academia's ivory towers might be, but hardly with a core of steel. The commanding officer, B. Weller, emphatically points out that she's his responsibility and under his command. The pair are a fine contrast, Gerth's slightly wispy character and Weller transitioning from explosive to human - whatever it takes to make things work. Not long after she arrives, there's an order that such civilian employees must have a guard and so she can no longer go out practicing her language skills without having what is in effect a nanny. This inhibits conversation with the natives even more than she's already encountered - which is plenty. She's met an Iraqi woman and they become friends, although life seems generally a game of "Who Do You Trust?"
There's one scene with a considerable discussion of veiling, which reminds us of the pleasures and even the powers of invisibility. (Hermione Grainger, please discuss.) That's something that we haven't heard much, if anything about, but is worthy of at least some mulling. Wendy Greenwood does good work as Adilah, the woman with the veil.
Fine tech work, too,as is Mustard Seed's habit, especially John Stark's set design. Playwright Jennifer Blackmer's script could use a little tightening, especially in the scenes where much of the dialogue is in what I assume is Arabic, the primary language of Iraq. But the tale is a good and valid one and the transitions in time are very smoothly handled, not always easy to do. But like the situation in the Middle East, there's no easy answer. In fact, there may not be an answer at all.
through September 14, 2014
Mustard Seed Theatre