George Bartenieff plays an out-sized captain of industry who privatizes and is ultimately undone by state-sponsored torture in "Another Life," written and directed by Karen Malpede, a surreal play that is based on real post-9/11 events. The play, written in a fast-paced lyric language, is based on research, interviews, testimonies, the words of torturers and tortured. It has been widely praised by experts in the field of human rights for its inventiveness, power and ability to create empathy. Theater for the New City will present the piece March 28 to April 21, accompanied by "A Festival of Conscience," a series of free post-play dialogues and panels with prominent lawyers, writers and activists, and readings of Malpede's play, "Extreme Whether," a story of heroic climate scientists facing censorship.
"Another Life" begins during the 9/11 attacks in NYC and ends in 2009 during Congressional hearings on the release of the Red Cross Torture Report. The play swings back and forth between surreal and real. A mogul named Handel (played in Cheney-esque fashion by George Bartenieff) has founded a private contracting firm named Deepwater which, in our age of terrorism, has taken over the historically military functions of prisoner incarceration and interrogation. His wife, Tess (a former Chechen prostitute--Handel understands whores) an artist, has run outside to take photos. His adopted daughter, Lucia, a physician, has been rescued by a Muslim taxi driver during the events of 9/11. Upon realizing her husband is one of the jumpers, she miscarries. Instead of being rewarded for her rescue, the cabbie is falsely accused of being a terrorist and is imprisoned in Handel's home, along with his increasingly rebellious wife, Tess, creating a sort of "Gitmo on Hudson." Having cornered the market for prison interrogations in the private sector, Handel and his firm soon become implicated in brutal interrogations at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, where his daughter had become the Doctor in Charge. Handel hires a former FBI interrogator, who had resigned over the torture program. He and Lucia find themselves implicated together in the torture. They both represent America gone wrong but with hope of redemption. As Handel becomes more and more megalomaniacal, Lucia ultimately morphs from accomplice to whistleblower, joining the International Red Cross and releasing the organization's Torture Report to the press.
All this is conveyed in surreal, poetic language that, more than the violence it describes, delivers the themes of the piece. While the play contains three factual torture stories, it does not reenact violence, leaving it to the play's language to illuminate the transformation of Americans since September 10, 2001. Malpede explains that she has been struck, like many others, by both the degradation of public language on our shores and the shocking callousness of U.S. personnel involved in torture cases. A new language of torture, preserved in so many accounts, has emerged, providing a window into the soul of a nation suddenly overriding its own laws of wartime restraint. As the character of Handel profits in this play from wars, his language becomes increasingly graphic and grandiose. David Swanson wrotes, "The broken poetic dialogue of the half dozen characters of 'Another Life' draw me in as they present what a decade ago would have been sick ravings and are today the understandable concerns lurking in The Shadows of all of our minds."
Dairus Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy, wrote, "Another Life reminds me of another really great piece of literature. Just as Mary Shelley's Franksenstein captures the terror of the French Revolution in a simple story, Karen Malpede's Another Life compresses all the political tenisions of the 9/11 era into the lives of just six characters. And like Dr. Frankenstein, Malpede's Handel alters the lives of everyone." David Swanson (warisacrime.org) wrote, "Brilliant and humane playwright Karen Malpede has produced another play that grabs this country by the lapels, shakes it, caresses its cheek, and kicks its ass....The play is not so much a national nightmare or a national fantasy as a surreal reproduction of the mixture of horrors and hopes that most dreaming is: the most gruesome and graphic and taboo of our collective fears without exactly the fear itself, the deepest of longings and desires in immediate and mundane form but recognizable as revelations upon awakened reflection."