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The obscenity of the quest for power at the core of “Guardians”

Sick, sick, sick. And definitely not for the meek. But the Mary-Arrchie Theatre production of Peter Morris’ “Guardians” – directed with steely minimalism by Arianna Soloway, and performed with total conviction and complete fearlessness by Adam Soule and Jaci Entwisle, is riveting in its perversity. And if it is any indication of what is to come as Mary-Arrchie moves through its 30th (and, as previously announced) final season, the company clearly has every intention of burning itself out in a blast of white hot fury.

Morris is an American-born playwright, television writer and critic who established himself in the British theater (“Guardians” debuted at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival), and has written for such English publications as the Guardian, the Observer, and the Independent. Clearly he is a practiced provocateur who knows just which nerve to target. You might not buy everything he has to say, but he is never boring. And watching his play you sense that had he not turned to writing he might well have made a fearsome interrogator at some “black site,” or made a fortune as an auteur in the porn industry.

As it happens, Morris’ play very shrewdly draws the connection between those two activities as he tags the common element in both as being a sense of impotence combined with an unstoppable pursuit of power. He defines the pornographic aspects of war (especially in the way suffering often is covered by the media), as well as the pornography of the bedroom. As I said, this play is not for the squeamish, but it certainly grabs hold in its twisted way.

‘GUARDIANS’

Highly recommended

When: Through Oct. 18

Where: Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.

735 W. Sheridan

Tickets: $30

Info: (773) 871-0442;

http://www.maryarrchie.com

Run time: 100 minutes

with no intermission

Jaci Entwisle co-stars in Peter Morris’ play, “Guardians,” at Mary-Arrchie Theatre. (Photo: Emily Schwartz)
Jaci Entwisle co-stars in Peter Morris’ play, “Guardians,” at Mary-Arrchie Theatre. (Photo: Emily Schwartz)

Structured as a series of alternating monologues, “Guardians” unspools in a bare, prison-like room with bright white walls (set design by Grant Sabin), and is awash in unforgiving fluorescent light (designed by Claire Chrzan).

The first to speak – and it is with a sharp, precisionist, alternately self-lacerating and self-aggrandizing, steel-trap-like tone – is the English Boy (Soule), who is not a boy at all. A Fleet Street hack hellbent on making a name for himself as a columnist for a more high-minded newspaper or magazine, he has a Sloane Street girl pal for appearances but eventually reveals the details of his grotesque sado-maschistic homosexual “love” affair.

His female counterpart, the “American Girl” – played with brilliantly understated honesty and painful self-revelation and matter-of-factness by Jaci Entwisle – is a thinly veiled take on Lynndie England, the former United States Army Reserve soldier among those convicted in 2005 by Army courts-martial in connection with torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad during the occupation of Iraq. The depiction of this young woman’s history and psycho-sexual makeup is both believable and sad, and a depressing portrait of what it can be like for some women in the military.

The trick here is that all the violence here is verbal, which makes it all the more graphic because of the intervention of the imagination. You might very well want to take a shower after leaving this show. But that will not quite do the trick.

Adam Soule plays a British journalist in Peter Morris’ play, “Guardians” at Mary-Arrchie Theatre. (Photo: Emily Schwartz)
Adam Soule plays a British journalist in Peter Morris’ play, “Guardians” at Mary-Arrchie Theatre. (Photo: Emily Schwartz)