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Another Life

Karen Malpede's play about war and torture is ambitious if ultimately too perplexing to be satisfying. logo
A scene from Another Life
(© Charles Dennis)
It's hard to know what to make of Karen Malpede's ambitious if perplexing play, Another Life, now being presented by the Irondale Ensemble at The Irondale Center in Brooklyn.

What feels like the first 20 minutes of the two-hour, intermissionless work consists of a disjointed monologue delivered by one of the main characters, Handel (George Bartieneff), the head of a mercenary army. He doesn't speak in sentences or phrases but rather in stray fragments of words. Exactly what he's saying, it's hard to say. In fact, it takes some time to realize he's not speaking in a foreign language.

This groundlessness sets the tone for the amorphous journey that follows, taking us from New York to Afghanistan and Iraq. Like many works with such a large scope, the details that would make it come to life get lost in the mix.

For starters, the characters say an awful lot about war and torture, but none of it defines them. There's little doubt that Malpede cares deeply about the events surrounding 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the deeply moral debates regarding the use of torture during wartime that inspired her to write this play. Unfortunately, she hasn't created a world we can inhabit, but simply presented a string of ideas.

The most striking of these comes from Handel's wife, Tess (Christen Clifford), as she expresses what she felt the day the Twin Towers fell. She tells us that she couldn't help but think of the mothers of the hijackers losing their sons. It's an intriguing angle to explore contrasted with the thirst for revenge that drowned out all other thought.

Malpede's lack of direction doesn't help matters. Scenes bleed into one another with a draining lack of intensity. The actors feel unsure of where they are on stage, and the blocking is clumsy. There's never a sense that a landscape has been drawn on the stage with people who actually live there.

Indeed, each time the lights go black and rise again, we don't feel that we've moved to another time and place in the world of the story, but rather merely turned another page in the script.

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