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.”
Reviewers are not invited, in an unusual turn for Off-off Broadway. Malpede writes, “Because of the strong nature of the factual material in this surreal poetic play, and due to the positive reactions from major voices in the human rights and anti-torture worlds and from theater artists, we wish to continue to have an unmediated audience response. Our Festival of Conscience allows for unusually intimate exchanges between audiences and public intellectuals. While we welcome each and every press mention, photograph or listing, we are asking for no reviews. We realize all press coverage for any play is limited in this highly competitive environment and we thank everyone for their consideration.”
The actors are George Bartenieff, Christin Clifford, Abraham Makany, Abbas Noori Abood, Alex Tavis and Di Zhu. Set design is by Robert Eggers, lighting design is by Tony Giovennetti, costume design is by Sally Ann Parsons and Carisa Kelly, video design is by Luba Lukova and music is by Arthur Rosen.
Karen Malpede is author/director of 18 plays including “Us,” “Better People,” and “Blue Heaven” (all presented by TNC), “The Beekeeper’s Daughter” (Theater Row Theater) and “Prophecy” (NY Theatre Workshop). She is editor of “Acts of War: Iraq & Afghanistan in Seven Plays,” “Women in Theater: Compassion & Hope” and “Three Works by the Open Theater.” A McKnight National Playwrights’ and NYFA fellow, she has taught dramatic literature, playwriting and writing at Smith College, New York University and the CUNY-Graduate Center’s Continuing Education program. She is currently on the theater faculty at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
George Bartenieff began his theater career at the age of 14 in “The Whole World Over,” directed by Harold Clurman. He has acted on Broadway, Off and Off-off, in hundreds of new and classic plays. He was co-founder of Theater for the New City and co-founder of the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. He and Karen Malpede adapted for the stage the diaries of Victor Klemperer, “I Will Bear Witness,” as a one-person play that played to acclaim in New York, London, Berlin, Washington DC and toured Europe and the U.S. for three years. He is winner of four Village Voice Obie awards, including acting awards for his performances in Malpede’s “Us” and “I Will Bear Witness.”
“Another Life” will be presented by Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue at 10th St) from March 28 to April 21, 2013, Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sunday at 3:00 PM, with an added matinee on Saturday April 13 at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $18 and are available at 212-254-1109 or through the website: www.theaterforthenewcity.net.
“EXTREME WHETHER” (READINGS)-Written and directed by Karen Malpede, “Extreme Whether” tells the story of heroic climate scientists in the face of censorship. With: George Bartenieff, Kathleen Chalfant, Soraya Broukhim, Zach Grenier, Kathleen Purcelli and Alex Travis. Mon., April 8 at 7:00 PM and Sat, April 13 at 8:00 PM. Tickets $5. Box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
A FESTIVAL OF CONSCIENCE – A series of free post-show dialogues with prominent writers, thinkers and activists following performances of “Another Life” and readings of “Extreme Whether”
March 28: Noor Elashi (author) and Pardiss Kabriaei (lawyer, Center for Constitutional Rights).
April 8: James Hanson (prominent American Climate Scientist).
April 12: Victoria Brittain (author of “Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror”).
April 13: Jesselyn Radack (Government Accountability Project),Thomas Drake (whistle blower) and Ramzi Kassem (Guantanamo defense lawyer).
April 14: Michael Ratner (Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights) and Christian Parenti (author, “Tropic of Chaos).
March 28: Noor Elashi (writer and daughter of Ghassan Elashi, who is currently serving 65 years in a prison in Colorado where the Federal Bureau of Prisons severely restricts, manages and monitors all outside communication with the inmates. Ghassan Elashi led a Muslim charity that sent donations to Gaza.) and Pardiss Kabriaei (Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer representing Muslims in the U.S.).
April 4: David Swanson (author and activist)
April 7: Elizabeth Holtzman (former Congresswoman and author of “Cheating Justice,” Karen J. Greenberg, Director of Center on National Security at Fordham Law.)
April 8: Following 8:00 PM reading of “Extreme Whether,” a post-show talk by Dr. James Hansen, NASA, America’s foremost climate scientist.
April 11: post-show discussion TBA.
April 12: Victoria Brittan (journalist and co-author of “Guantanamo: Honour Bound to Defend Duty” and “Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror”), Michael Ratner (Exec. Director of Center for Constitutional Rights and lawyer for Julian Assange) and Christian Parenti (author of “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence” and other books, and contributing editor to the Nation).
April 13: Ramzi Kassem (lawyer for Gitmo detainees), Jesselyn Radack (Government Accountability Project, lawyer for many of the whistle blowers, including John Kiriakou), Tom Drake (whistle blower and former intelligence officer).
The plays and festival have been developed by Theater Three Collaborative (www.theaterthreecollaborative.org). “Another Life” will be part of a Festival of New Works at RADA, London, this summer.