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Palace of the End

Judith Thompson's uneven triptych of monologues about the Middle East crisis still packs an emotional wallop.

By New York City
Teri Lamm, Rocco Sisto, and Heather Raffo
in Palace of the End
(© Carol Rosegg)
Teri Lamm, Rocco Sisto, and Heather Raffo
in Palace of the End
(© Carol Rosegg)
Playwright Judith Thompson has based her uneven if powerful new drama, Palace of the End, being presented by Epic Theatre Ensemble at Playwrights Horizons, on three real-life individuals who have been -- for better or worse -- intimately connected to the current Middle East crisis. The author has taken liberties with each story, staying true to the basic facts, but taking a leap into the imagination in order to depict her subjects' interior lives.

The show begins with Teri Lamm as Lynndie England, one of the U.S. soldiers who was convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Her monologue attempts to show how one individual can dehumanize another. As depicted here, Lynndie keeps saying that she didn't do anything wrong and that her actions were those of a patriot. But every now and again, doubt and guilt will creep through her words, and Lamm nicely captures this contradiction. Unfortunately, the monologue as a whole isn't as complex as it could be. Lynndie is portrayed too stereotypically, making it easy to dismiss both the character and her arguments; a bolder choice would have been to try to make the audience believe that she was right.

Dr. David Kelly, portrayed by Rocco Sisto, was the British weapons inspector who blew the whistle on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, or the lack thereof. Kelly allegedly committed suicide, although many suspect foul play. Thompson has imagined that he did indeed kill himself, but uses her play to imagine why he may have done so. The speech is an intriguing look at morality and heroism. Sisto is good in the piece's quieter moments, but tends to be a little too melodramatic in the more emotional sections.

The final segment of the show is also the best written and performed. Heather Raffo portrays Nehrjas Al Saffarh, an Iraqi communist who suffered torture under Saddam Hussein's regime and was later killed by U.S. bombs during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Raffo tells Nehrjas' story with humor and charisma, allowing the audience to identify with her strongly. Yet, she doesn't pull her punches when it comes to describing the horrors that Nehrjas endured under the hands of Hussein's secret police at the "Palace of the End" of the play's title. The monologue is also a bittersweet examination of faith, and how one can both gain and lose it.

Mimi Lien's striking set creates three different environments that are visually linked by the use of large slabs of glass, textured to suit the individual monologues. A recurring theme in two of the pieces is the idea of going "through the looking-glass," and into a world that doesn't seem quite real. Except of course, it is.


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