Blind Angels by Dick Brukenfeld, directed by Melisa Attebery and currently at Theater For The New City, is a thriller that careens around corners and propels us through loops on a ride that holds a few surprises. Though the tension and suspense sometimes derail on plot contrivances, the end run is satisfying thanks to the efforts of the director and the lead actors in the climactic scenes.
The premise of Blind Angels involves a what-if scenario that promises to deliver but offers a bumpy execution by the playwright. Aaron, a noteworthy journalist (Scott Raker), is duped by his Ivy League buddy-cum “brother,” Sadri (Francesco Campari) to meet at his apartment under a false pretext. Once Aaron arrives, Sadri with the help of Yusuf (Alok Tewari) holds him captive at gunpoint and forcefully engages him in a quasi-PR campaign to report his terrorist plot to discharge a nuke. The terrorist action, Sadri claims, is the means to a positive end: It will bring attention to a longstanding, dangerous issue that is being ignored by intelligence agencies who are shamefully imperiling U.S. civilians.
Sadri has “made it impossible” for Aaron not to be exploited for his position as a reporter, for Aaron must notify his news outlet about the threat or Yusuf will deal with him. After their media publication, they will allow one and a half hours for evacuation before the bomb detonates. No citizens will be harmed, the nuke will explode and Sadri’s revelation of the dangerous issue to the intelligence agencies will force them to tighten defense security. Sadri and Yusuf will have martyred their lives; they will not be evacuated along with Aaron and the citizens in the blast impact zone, to prove the country’s security is in peril. Indeed, Sadri is a “hero” of sorts, for he will have helped to create increased security for the country, saving people’s lives in the long run. If the allusion to the archangel Samael applies, then Sadri is a “blind angel,” donning the cloak of evil to bring about a great good.
As the play develops, Aaron attempts to “defuse” Sadri’s fixed, “blind” rationale by presenting realities that are difficult for this genius mathematics professor to overlook: One is the possibility that his handlers are villains who may sabotage his plans. We learn of the strong emotional and intellectual bonds that have existed between them; we learn about their spheres of influence; we note their “brotherhood,” though Aaron is a Reform Jew and Sadri a reform Muslim. We learn how Sadri has devolved to this point and understand his hopeless motivation for concocting this act. The revelation of their love for the same woman, Danny (Qurrat Ann Kadwani), who is also present on the scene comes late in the play. Having learned all this, we are led to question the extent to which Sadri’s closeness with Aaron will ultimately impact Sadri’s plans. We also learn the extent of Aaron’s loyalty to his country and his willingness to sacrifice his life to stop the plot, having realized that Sadri’s plan might be impossible without his enforced cooperation.
As the playwright focuses on the issues of friendship and loyalty to one’s nation and one’s friends, he also identifies a vital issue in presenting a weakness in areas of our national defense. There is much the average citizen does not know about this and the playwright capitalizes upon our ignorance to offer such a scenario. If we do not consider the intricacies of what is suggested and haplessly continue on the ride, then how Sadri obtained and transported the nuke appears plausible. More credible are the offstage villains behind the scenes who are pulling the strings and making Sadri into a puppet whose intended “goodness” is being exploited and abused.
It is in the presentation of the backstory and complications in the characterization of Danny where the playwright skews the play’s thrust and intention. The relationship of Danny and Sadri, a plot contrivance to effect the resolution, actually hinders the impact of the building dramatic tension. If the playwright had woven in the “villains” earlier, strengthened their virulence and the potential threat to and impact on Yusuf and Sadri, the elements of suspense would have been heightened. The focus would have been redirected making Danny’s characterization appear less contrived.
The what-if scenario finds its resolution and the playwright ties the threads of loyalty, sacrifice, love and destruction together. It is in the last scene when Francesco Campari’s Sadri becomes the tour de force that compels and engages us with his riveting performance. Much of the play turns on Campari’s believability. He must convince us that he is naive enough to believe his plan will work and is obviously brilliant enough to effect it. Campari succeeds every whit and shines. The fine ensemble, including Cynthia Granville as a chilly Hammond, effectively provides the backdrop he plays upon, despite the difficulties with how some of the characterizations are drawn.
Brukenfeld has served up an interesting drama that is sometimes difficult to swallow because it requires suspension of disbelief in the technicalities, not because of Sadri’s naive innocence. The playwright asks a lot of the actors and director to effect a doomsday thrill ride on stage. A better medium might be film, at least pending more work on characterization and tightening of ancillary plot elements. Nevertheless, the issues presented – overlooked national security weaknesses, loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, misguided intentions and the potential for exploitation and abuse by terrorists – are thought-provoking. The two themes “the ends justify the means” and “the faces of good and evil are on opposite sides of the same coin” are appropriate in our time, which melds villainy and heroism or disperses them to nothing.
Blind Angels in its world premiere presentation at Theater For The New City runs through March 2.