Vol. 2 No. 6 2009


At The Old Vic, London, England

By Joe Sutton
Directed by Kevin Spacey
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Elizabeth McGovern and David Suchet

“Those who would give up their freedom for security deserve neither and will lose both.”

Ben Franklin

On a recent trip to London, I happened to stop by The Old Vic Theatre to see what was playing during my one week stay. I had known that Kevin Spacey was the artistic director of the Old Vic but when I found out that he would be directing the world premiere of Joe Sutton’s new play, Complicit, with a cast that included Richard Dreyfuss, Elizabeth McGovern and David Suchet, I walked up to the box office and purchased tickets for the following night’s performance.

mcgovern, dreyfuss, spacey

The play attacks the dilemma of an honorable journalist who must choose between outing an information source or risk imprisonment for protecting said source. To comply or not to comply with government authority, that is the question. Add to this the immediacy of the action taking place soon after 9/11 and the abridgment of civil liberties exemplified by the Patriot Act and we have thought provoking tentacles that will twist and wrap around our main character and tear him and his world apart.

Benjamin Kritzer (Richard Dreyfuss) is a respected middle aged journalist. We see him alternately with his much younger wife, Judith (Elizabeth McGovern, and with Roger (David Suchet), his lawyer and friend. “All they want to do is ask you a few questions.” Roger tells him soothingly. “What kind of questions?” asks Benjamin pensively. By the end of Act One, Benjamin is in deep and troubledwaters. A Grand Jury wants Benjamin to name his source for a story he wrote exposing government complacency with agencies outsourcing the torture of prisoners to third world countries. Judith, Ben’s wife, alternately subdued and angry, appeals to his love of family. He should do anything to prevent himself from going to jail for the sake of his wife and children.

Roger, ever the lawyer, is motivated to prevent his friend and client from going to jail. He will brow beat Benjamin and plead with him to give up the source so as not to go to jail. Roger sees victory to this case as preventing Benjamin from going to jail.

Benjamin is torn between wanting to do the right thing by his family and doing right by his information source and by extension, upholding his own self-worth as an ethical journalist.

When Benjamin leaves the Grand Jury deliberations at the end of Act Two and is met by Roger with the words, “Congratulations! You’re a free man,” the look that passes over Benjamin’s face tells us that he is anything but. He is complicit with the forces that he would expose.

Richard Dreyfuss, as Benjamin, gives a performance of blustery frustration, mitigated by moments of almost supreme serenity when he reminisces about those factors from his past that supposedly made him a journalist of high ethical standards. This fluctuation seemed a little forced and irregular at first, but he hits his stride in the 2nd act until the end.

Elizabeth McGovern, as Judith, starts off as meek, so meek I had trouble hearing her lines for the first half of Act One but she also finds her ground in the 2nd Act and makes a convincing case as to why Benjamin should choose family over source. She sees her ethical parameter as protecting her family.

David Suchet shines as Roger, the lawyer/friend who must win release for his client as his own moral imperative. He has an argument and an answer for every reason that Benjamin gives for protecting his source. He is a bully but not without compassion. However misguided, he truly believes he is doing the right thing for his client and friend.

The ambiguities that bubble and boil between these three characters on the Old Vic’s new circular stage does provide thought provoking theatre. Being a new play and a world premiere, I considered this to be a work in progress. Mr. Spacey should be commended for bringing this uniquely American play to its premiere in London. On the strength of what I’ve seen, I can look forward to a New York production to see how it will play out in front of an American audience.Joe Sutton, said about his play, “We all felt a spasm of fear on 9/11, and some of us who live in New York may have felt something more than that. I know I did. It was then incumbent upon us to move over that feeling to have a clear-eyed view of our world. Our failure to do so, to be clear eyed, is what gave us Abu Ghraib. That’s what Complicit is about. The responsibility for American atrocities we all share.”

Joe Sutton, the playwright, is author of The Breach, The Predator’s Ball, The Benefits of Doubt, Third Army, Restoring the Sun and Voir Dire, (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and Best Play Award, American Theatre Critics Association). He teaches playwriting at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire.

James Petcoff lives on Cape Cod and makes forays into the world on occasion.

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