Synchronicity of Atlanta presents STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR – East-West Divide

Synchronicity of Atlanta STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR
Prosecuting attorney (Brian Ashton Smith) interrogates Sameer (Benjamin Sims) in the world premiere of Andrea Lepcio's Strait of Gibraltar running through April 23 at Synchronicity Theatre. Photo Credit: Jerry Siegel Photography.

Synchronicity Presents A Topical Play

Theatre doesn't get more topical than this: a Muslim man living illegally in Manhattan meets and falls in love with a young Jewish woman, and thereby discovers the ethnic and political minefield that awaits him in current-day America. The play is a new work by playwright Andrea Lepcio, begun in 2011 but premiering now at Synchronicity, and the material could not be more relevant to current events. The play deals with such controversial topics as the Patriot Act and the current administration's travel bans on Muslims by showing us a couple who get caught in the gears of our increasingly xenophobic and intrusive legal system.

The play is, first and foremost, a vehicle for a specific political message: namely that racial profiling has gone too far, and that individuals are being stripped of their rights in the service of fear and ignorance. As can happen with politically-oriented works in which a writer's own convictions lie at the heart of the piece, the development of the characters is in service to the larger polemic, so some of the contradiction, conflict, and tension of human beings trying, with mixed results, to live and love turns into a less nuanced, and therefore less interesting, battle of good (the lovers) versus evil (Homeland Security) by the end of the play. At its best, however, this play is a touching narrative of two individuals trying to see through the veil of contemporary East-West relations to find the real human beings underneath.

Minimalist Staging, Rich Performances

Director Rachel May presents us with a minimalist staging in which the protagonists' struggles play out against a shifting collection of pale walls which, in their dance-like rearrangements, become a character in and of themselves. The sparseness of the set serves as a foil for the messy human-ness of the play. The only distraction for me, visually, was the use of projected photographs at transitions. I understood the need to inject storytelling into the many and sometimes long transitions in the play, but the full color photos of the actors seemed, at times, both redundant and so at odds aesthetically with a staging based in immediacy and transparency that I thought there could have been a more elegant solution. That said, the set design evoked the many locations in the play by simple reconfigurations of walls, transporting us from a Manhattan apartment to a holding cell and back again with simple spatial gestures--a smart and sophisticated design.

Performances were excellent across the board. Maggie Birgel plays a self-involved, overly intellectual Miriam to Benjamin Dewitt Sims' warm, earthy, and direct Sameer--a clear case of opposites attracting, with tangible stage chemistry. Kathleen Wattis plays Miriam's equally self-involved mother.  The actors deftly handle the Mamet-esque dialogue of the characters, in which they tend to monologue at each other rather than be in true conversation. Sameer seems to be the only character that actually listens and responds, rather than attending to their own projections and internal rattlings like Miriam and her mother, or exercising unilateral authority like the I.C.E. officials in the second half of the play.

Synchronicity of Atlanta STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR
Benjamin Sims (Sameer) and Maggie Birgel (Miriam) in the world premiere of Andrea Lepcio's Strait of Gibraltar running through April 23 at Synchronicity Theatre. Photo Credit: Jerry Siegel Photography.
Synchronicity of Atlanta STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR
Benjamin Sims (Sameer) and Maggie Birgel (Miriam) in the world premiere of Andrea Lepcio's Strait of Gibraltar running through April 23 at Synchronicity Theatre. Photo Credit: Jerry Siegel Photography.

In this sense, Sameer ends up being the more likable character, though there is certainly the hint of a stereotype here: the passionate brown man who seduces the uptight white woman, initiating her into the ways of passion before being soundly punished by society for his presumption in crossing racial lines. The play does, however, manage to evade this trope in the end by having Miriam receive the brunt of the legal system's ire, rather than Sameer.

On the whole, this gutsy and relevant new play and Synchronicity's capable production is RECOMMENDED.

Anyone interested in new work with a decidedly political edge will want to see Strait of Gibraltar.

When:

Mar. 31 - Apr. 23

Where:

Synchronicity
1545 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta, GA

Photos:

Jerry Siegel Photography

Derek Lee Barton PhD

About the Author:

Derek Barton is a performance artist, educator, and director of both film and stage productions. A graduate of Northwestern's Performance Studies doctoral program, his
work explores issues of sustainability, social justice, and artistic
intervention in public space.
 
For more on Dr. Barton, visit www.derekleebarton.com

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