The moment of foreshadowing in Strait of Gibraltar arrives three-quarters of the way through the first act. In a New York City apartment, Sameer is telling his new girlfriend about how he gets what he wants from his domineering father, a businessman back home in Morocco.
“You must be a pretty good liar,” Miriam says.
Sameer nods. “Just the right amount of detail.”
Up to that point, Andrea Lepcio’s play has followed a more or less standard trajectory for a “star-crossed lovers” drama – like Romeo, Juliet, Kate, Leo, Bridget and Bernie the odds are against this handsome and loving young couple.
Here’s the kicker: Sameer is a Muslim, and Miriam is a Jew.
Can you see where this is going?
Running through June 17 at American Stage, Strait of Gilbraltar is a Florida premiere; the play was workshopped in St. Petersburg, with Lepcio in attendance.
Although the lead actors (Joe Joseph as Sameer and Jordan Mann as Miriam) are imminently watchable, the play itself is talky, rambling and at times difficult to make sense of. Yet it isn’t deep: The central metaphor, that the Strait of Gibraltar is where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, is clumsily introduced early on.
The real star is the Patriot Act of 2001, which gives the federal government broad powers to detain and interrogate anyone suspected of terrorist activities. Or terrorist ties. Or terrorist fleeting thoughts.
Sameer, because of his nationality, falls right into that rabbit hole. And lilywhite Miriam, who works in a bank and only wanted to help her boyfriend through an “innocent” immigration problem, is sucked through along with him.
And Act II, in which the frantic Feds stick it to our jailed protagonists again and again, is where the play is apparently supposed to raise our bile at the inhumanity of it all. The interrogating agents are cruel and even violent; they don’t want to hear what Sameer and Miriam are saying, because they know it’s all a pack of lies.
Or is it?
While the first act is pleasant enough, if a tad predictable, this remaining section of the production plays out like a particularly tepid episode of Homeland. In fact, giant TV screens above the stage are used to telegraph scene changes (“OK, now we’re at an airport,” “OK, now, we’re at the prison on Riker’s Island”), which only reinforces the idea that we’re watching something we’ve seen again and again on television.
The government had been tailing Sameer for months – and when he hooked up with Miriam, the surveillance came to include eavesdropping on their most intimate moments. The couple’s sex life gets a verbal workout several times.
Does it shock? Does it titillate? Does it make you want to write your Congressman and spew outrage? Probably not. I wanted the star-crossed young couple to come out ahead, at least in the beginning. By the end, I didn’t really care.
The fault here is not with the actors, nor is it with American Stage, which – as always – has framed the show beautifully. Strait of Gibraltar itself presents nothing new, visceral or particularly thought-provoking.
More information and tickets here.
Pictured: Jordan Mann and Joe Joseph in “Strait of Gibraltar” (Photo: Kara Goldberg)