‘Unreliable’ scores with New Works production at KC Rep

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KC Repertory Theatre

For those old enough to remember or have seen the 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate, the KC Rep production of “Unreliable” brings a chilling reality to audiences as the play examines truth, perspectives, and ideologies of three central characters.

Amro Salama as Yusuf, a Chicago-based actor making his Kansas City debut, portraying a prisoner held in an off-shore prison for 11 years, gives a convincing performance alongside two local actresses with a long resume of outstanding performances. Jan Rogge as Hattie and Jessalyn Kincaid as Gretchen create a unique mother/daughter relationship that keeps the audience guessing from start to climax. Their relationship and the notion that one might not be as truthful as expected keeps the action shifting between them.

“Unreliable” by Dipika Guha presents some questions about who is real, who is fabricating, and who grasps true reality. Each character shows a depth and an ever-deepening attraction for the audience’s attention in a psychological thriller.

The production is a work in progress and represents a work that KC Rep selected to produce and give full treatment to help move the work to its final polished form. Directed by Ailan Conant, the work presents something to think about, but still needs some work and polish to tighten some loose ends.  The play is a psychological thriller, but the show is slow to develop and needs some trimming and direction to move faster.

After opening night, Conant addressed the reception audience and explained what a joy she found in the KC Rep staff and production team. She said it was akin to being welcomed into someone’s home. She said the crew was in place and both ready and willing to take on the new play and develop it into a customized, professional piece for public consideration.

Her excitement fortifies the notion that Kansas City is a hot bed of talent and that KC Rep productions are first class and that their production team stands ready to develop new works.

The production team, that director Conant refers, is: Jacqueline Penron, scenic design, L.A. Clevenson, costume design; Michelle Harvey, lighting design: Brendan Aanes, sound design; Margaret Spare, assistant lighting design; Louis Colaianni, dialect coach; Pascale Giroux, dialect coach; Duha Jaafreh, Arabic translation; Gabriel Livingston, dramaturg; April Elizabeth Brewer, New Works production manager; Tenley Pitonzo, production stage manager.

“Unreliable” runs without an intermission. Opening night ran about 110 minutes. The dialogue and action were tight so audiences can expect the timing to remain in that ballpark area.

As for the story, to give away much of the story line would distract from the attention the audience needs as they watch the play unfold. The story centers on an attorney, Gretchen, who represents a man of Muslim descent who was captured and taken into U.S. custody. While the audience never knows his whereabouts, Guantanamo would be a good guess. When not questioning Yusuf, Gretchen lives with her mother, Hattie, who prides herself as a secretary in her working days. Gretchen’s live ping-pongs between the two locations as the story unfolds.

Gretchen appears to live between the two extremes and finds herself easily drawn into relations with clients. As she wants to help defend her clients, the attention can turn into affection–something difficult. Divulging more of the story would distract from the web of deceipt that lies beneath the truth.

While incarcerated, Yusuf maintains his silence because he feels that the United States has misled him and misrepresented themselves to him. He’s been burned twice, so his reluctance to confide in Gretchen is justified.

Three strong characterizations give “Unreliable” a strong foundation on which to build. Kincaid gives a multi-layered performance as she navigates between the two locals of her current lift. Rogge shows a character not seen from her as a mother who has some possible age-related lapses with reality, yet focuses when needed to deliver shocking clues and resolutions. Salama disappears into his character and the dialect he speaks in the play. He is very convincing and only after the play (at the reception) did his American speech show the level of speaking so convincingly with a foreign dialect (Jordanian). All three actors give chilling performances.

“Unreliable” continues on the Copaken stage inside the H & R Block building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri through May 19. As part of the KC Rep New Works series, be sure to check the KC Rep website for ticketing, dates, times, and prices. www.kcrep.org

Tags: KC Rep, Copaken Stage, “Unreliable” review, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

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