Faceless Review - A Timely Reflection on Islam in America

 

(L to R) Susaan Jamshidi (Claire Fathi), Lindsay Stock (Susie Glenn)

 

"This won’t be a lighthearted one," the woman next to me said to her husband. "It's timely."

 

Indeed, lighthearted and timely are something of antonyms in our current world. Northlight Theatre's production of Faceless, a world premiere play about a white teenage girl on trial for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism and the Muslim American woman who prosecutes her, bills itself as "more potent than ever," a phrase that has been exhaustingly ubiquitous in the theatre community since the election of Donald Trump, but one which, for once, actually seems applicable.

 

(L to R) Susaan Jamshidi (Claire Fathi), Timothy Edward Kane (Scott Bader), Ross Lehman (Mark Arenberg), Lindsay Stock (Susie Glenn)

 

The folks at Northlight Theatre could not have known when they chose to produce Selina Fillinger's play a year ago that our newly inaugurated president would take such harsh and hateful measures toward keeping Middle Eastern, and especially Muslim, people out of the U.S., but that reality throws the story of Faceless into a harsh new light. The story forces its audience to grapple with the question of what it means to be Muslim in America and how we define terrorism in this day and age. Is it, as the title suggests, a faceless evil?

 

Lindsay Stock (Susie Glenn)

 

Faceless tells the story of two remarkably different women bound by a shared faith and a court case. Eighteen-year-old Susie Glenn is recruited to ISIS by an online boyfriend, and recent Harvard grad and prosecuting attorney Claire Fathi sees her as a spoiled, naïve white girl who gives Islam a bad name. Meanwhile, Susie doesn't understand why Claire isn't more sympathetic towards a fellow Muslim woman. It sounds simple, but as the story progresses and the characters are faced with a wide array of conflicting forces both internal and external, both women must reevaluate what they believe and why.

 

(L to R) Susaan Jamshidi (Claire Fathi), Lindsay Stock (Susie Glenn)

 

Fillinger's script is smart and unrelenting. In addition to Susie and Claire, Fillinger also offers the voices of Scott Bader, a highly accomplished white male lawyer who works the case with Claire; Mark Arenberg, a Jewish lawyer who defends Susie; and Alan Glenn, Susie's father (played by Joe Dempsey), whose relatively one-note characterization and half-hearted musings about parenthood make him the least interesting character onstage.

 

(L to R) Lindsay Stock (Susie Glenn), Joe Dempsey (Alan Glenn)

 

Scott, played with specificity and relentless energy by Timothy Edward Kane, adds an interesting dimension to the play's central discussion of privilege and identity, bouncing between offensive stereotype and remarkable clarity in turn, playing off of Susaan Jamshidi's Claire brilliantly. Mark also brings an interesting perspective to the mix; neither Muslim nor a woman, he nevertheless experiences marginalization because of his identity, and his defense of Susie offers valid counterpoints to Claire's accusations against the teenager. Indeed, the rhetoric in this show is sharp and thought-provoking on all sides.

 

(L to R) Timothy Edward Kane (Scott Bader), Susaan Jamshidi (Claire Fathi), Lindsay Stock (Susie Glenn), Ross Lehman (Mark Arenberg)

 

That rhetoric is strengthened even more by impressive acting. Susaan Jamshidi shines in the role of Claire. Her eloquent delivery, nuanced acting work, and powerful stage presence bring the character to complex and vivid life. Lindsay Stock presents a skillful portrayal of the young Susie, capturing deftly the space Susie occupies somewhere between adult maturity and teenage angst. Ross Lehman is compelling as Mark and provides necessary comic relief at times.

 

(L to R) Lindsay Stock (Susie Glenn), Ross Lehman (Mark Arenberg)

 

The scenic design is simple, but effective; a unit set becomes the court room, a jail cell, Scott's office, and cyberspace in turn. Of course, blocking from director BJ Jones assists with this as well. Costumes by Izumi Inaba help tell the story, too; Claire's costumes in particular carry varied weight and meaning as she dons various headscarves and, in a later scene, a significantly colored red, white, and blue ensemble.

 

Lindsay Stock (Susie Glenn)

 

Susie's trial is ultimately in the hands of the audience; it is left to us to judge the evidence the play presents us with and decide where we, and America, ought to stand on issues of gender, race, religion, and terrorism. Faceless is a smart and necessary new play.

 

(L to R) Timothy Edward Kane (Scott Bader), Susaan Jamshidi (Claire Fathi)

 

Ticket Information

Dates: February 4 – March 4, 2017

 

Schedule:                         

Wednesdays: 1:00pm (except February 22) and 7:30pm

Thursdays: 7:30pm

Fridays: 8:00pm

Saturdays: 2:30pm (except January 28) and 8:00pm

Sundays: 2:30pm and 7:00pm (January 29 and February 26 only)

 

Location:Northlight Theatreis located at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie.

 

Tickets: $30-$81. Student tickets are $15, any performance (subject to availability).

The Box Office is located at 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie. 847.673.6300; Northlight Theatre website

 

All photos by Michael Brosilow. 

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