Everyman's suspenseful 'National Defense' a stirring attack on terrorism


"Terrorism begets terrorism" is the crux of T. J. Edwards' powerful play, "National Defense," currently being produced by the Everyman Theatre at the Mount Royal Station Building of the Maryland Institute College of Art through March 15.

This gripping, edge-of-the-seat work, directed with a sure hand by Vincent M. Lancisi, won the 1987 Helen Hayes Award. The play features quality performances by the entire five-member cast. But it is Rob Leo Roy offering a riveting, complex performance who best represents Edwards' clever espionage thriller.

The excellent production (originally staged by Washington's acclaimed Woolly Mammoth Theatre), is being presented in conjunction with the art exhibition, "Beyond Glory: Re-Presenting Terrorism."

The effect of terrorism on its victims is startlingly evident in both the exhibit and the play. Although it has strong dramatic moments, the production is also a mocking, witty satire of our own individual paranoid fears.

The play centers on efforts to stop (and counter efforts to escalate) the explosion of a nuclear bomb by a Middle Eastern terrorist in a warehouse somewhere in America.

But American political chicanery is possibly at the bottom of the plot, compounded by private greed.

The action begins in a dilapidated Catholic school room where Wally, once a student and now an FBI spy, is waiting for his associate, Mark (of the CIA), to show up.

On hand is the first terrorist in Wally's life, Sister, the Catholic nun and teacher who terrified him as a child.

Old and impaired, she whacks Wally with her cane and treats him as a recalcitrant child while quoting violent passages from the Good Book. Intimidated, Wally regresses and reacts accordingly.

Wally and Mark are watching the warehouse across the road where Bob, a known Middle Eastern terrorist, is supposed to plant the bomb. Mark has a special interest in the project. Bob killed his half-Lebanese wife.

Rene, a double agent and Mark's current lover, comes through the window. She, like the other two, is out to get Bob. Or are they? Everyone may not be who they seem to be. Which, of course, adds to the suspense.

While waiting for Bob, the three exchange political and philosophical views. Beneath Wally's seemingly genial nature lurks a trigger-happy, quick-tempered personality. The enemy is never human to Wally.

Mark is more idealistic -- yet a very experienced, tough customer. Rene is efficient and passionate in her dedication to Mark and her mission.

Into this strange trio's midst comes Marty, a young punk with his "boom box." He is Sister's delinquent nephew, allowed to sleep in the room on occasion. Wally attacks him and beats him unmercifully. The stunned kid grabs Wally's gun and holds them all hostage. In the ensuing action, the gun goes off and Wally falls wounded.

As the play progresses, we learn what crimes are being perpetrated in the name of "patriotism" and "national defense."

The actors' movements are beautifully choreographed in Mr. Lancisi's production and the stage fights by Brad Waller are uncomfortably real.

Actor Roy enlists three different personas in his brilliant interpretation of the ambiguous Wally for a surprise finish.

Kyle Prue (who created the role at Woolly Mammoth) turns in a top-drawer professional performance as the intense and sensitive Marty, who has a decidedly dangerous edge. Carol Monda gives a distinctively professional interpretation as the passionate Rene.

Although Sean McDonough has the cool detachment necessary for the role of Mark, the actor lacks the underlying strength necessary to the character -- the dual emotions the audience must detect.

Anne B. Mulligan is amusing as the self-righteous nun, but she could have delved more deeply into the eccentricities of her character.

"National Defense" is the third play by this professional-caliber company. With its many twists and turns, it is both entertaining and enlightening.


CORRECTION: This column inadvertently noted recently that the Maltby and Shire musical revue, "Closer Than Ever," was playing the Vagabond Theatre. The show is being performed by an enthusiastic cast through Sunday at the Fells Points Corner Theatre. The Evening Sun regrets the error.

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