By Mike Giuliano
5:29 PM EDT, August 16, 2012
An international political event hits home on a very personal level in Kevin Kostic's "Passport." This Theatrical Mining Company production qualifies as a strong entry in this summer's Baltimore Playwrights Festival.
Although you might be left with some nagging questions and doubts about "Passport," Kostic generally manages to maintain a balance between the play's political and personal material.
The play's schematically rigorous structure helps keep things in balance, because there are alternating scenes set in a hotel in Kenya and an apartment in Washington. You see how the political drama swirling around that African hotel has dire personal consequences for a human rights organization bureaucrat who lives with his wife in a D.C. apartment.
An early indication that the play isn't fully satisfying on an informational level, however, involves its political premise. Make sure you read a playbill description of the disputed 2007 Kenyan presidential election, because the references to this real-life event are as oblique as they are ferocious within the play itself. Although you don't want the characters stopping to make stilted explanatory speeches for the sake of educating the audience, by the same token this play needs a more detailed presentation of its political context. The play also needs some fine-tuning with the characters' backgrounds and motives.
Fortunately, the basic story is clear. Jeff (Mike Ware) is a middle-aged, white American bureaucrat working for an international relief agency. He's trapped in his Kenyan hotel room as a result of the election-related violence surging in the streets.
That turmoil enters his hotel room with the intrusive entrance of two Kenyan sisters. Kioni (Ama Brown) now works as a nurse's aide in Philadelphia, but has returned to her native land in order to reconnect with her troubled sister, Louisa (Mahoghany Ayot Eerised), and their other siblings caught up in the wave of violence. Contentious debates about race, class and political ideology are explosively voiced in that Kenyan hotel room.
The Washington apartment scenes, which take place several months later, involve Jeff's return home to a history teacher wife, Nancy (Claire Bowerman), for whom his dangerous Kenyan experience is but the latest example of how his many trips over the years have placed ever-greater emotional distance between them.
Kostic's script and Barry Feinstein's fluid direction ensure that the play does not feel bumpy as it constantly goes back and forth between Kenya and the United States. Although this production's reliance on a single set used for both locations results in rather incongruous views through a Washington window, that's a relatively minor worry in a thoughtful and intensely acted production.
Theatrical Mining Company's "Passport" runs through Aug. 26 at Load of Fun Theatre, 120 W. North Ave. in Baltimore. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10. Go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com.