Arena Stage investigates 9/11 national security after 9/11.
Inspired by true events, Intelligence, now having its world premiere at Arena Stage, is a fictionalized version of what happened to the real covert C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame when she was tasked with finding and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after 9/11.
The drama, by Jacqueline E. Lawton, harks back to a period not long ago. In its first scene, the stage is lit with the screaming noises and flashing images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The action from there takes place at the C.I.A., in a Baghdad café, in an upscale fashion boutique in Georgetown, and in the home of Plame Wilson and her husband, a former U.S. Ambassador to Niger, Joseph Wilson.
By 2003, using a false name, Valerie made friends with the owner of a Middle Eastern fashion boutique, Leyla, in order to keep tabs on her. Leyla's uncle, Malik, who lived in Amman, Jordan, owned a coffee shop, which the F.B.I. had flagged as a cover for Al-Qaeda. Malik, according to the F.B.I., was the former head of the Iraq Chemical Weapons Testing Program. Valerie convinced Leyla to travel to Amman and ask her uncle if he would help the C.I.A. When he agrees, Valerie travels to Amman and learns that the stockpiles of chemical weapons are all gone and had never been weaponized anyway. Valerie then begs Malik to go to Baghdad and talk to the scientists who were involved in the program to make sure that the weapons had been destroyed. Though it was dangerous for him to go there, he agreed to do it "for my family and the Iraqi people." A photo of President Bush flashes on a scrim and a Bush voiceover announces the Invasion of Iraq. Valerie and Joe watch the news at home. In a rush of sound and confusion, Malik runs onstage, a bomb is heard exploding as shards of glass crash over him.
After the invasion, the focus in Intelligence shifts to a very different and murkier battle, between the Bush Administration, the C.I.A., and an article Joe Wilson wrote about how honest President Bush had been in citing the causes for the Iraq War. The sad conclusion of this part of the story is that Valerie's cover was blown by a journalist, her assets were threatened, and she eventually chose to leave the C.I.A.
Hannah Yelland is superb as the intelligent Valerie, creating a credible balance between her dedication to her job and her love of her family. She is capable of being truly sensitive to Leyla and Malik and to appreciating the work they do to help the United States. She is also just as assured at being outraged when she realizes that they have been used by the American government in order to bomb Iraq.
Lawrence Redmond is excellent as the gregarious Joe Wilson. Redmond plays him as a dutiful and adoring husband and a man who is not afraid to speak his mind, on air or in print. Aakhu Tuahnera Freeman plays Elaine Matthews, Valerie's boss at the C.I.A., as a strong, determined administrator who does not let Valerie make her own choices.
Ethan Hova plays Dr. Malik Nazari with a gentle awareness that feels appropriate for the character's choices. Nora Achrati is charming as Leyla, who goes out of her way to save her uncle from participating in the C.I.A.'s scheme and yet in the end cannot save him from trying to be brave for the sake of his country.
Director Daniella Topol keeps the short scenes fast-paced in this brief drama without intermission. Misha Kachman's set is made up of what seem to be many wide concrete slabs that rise from stage to ceiling and shift smoothly and automatically to create different spaces: a holding cell, Leyla's shop, Valerie and Joe's living room, and Malik's tea shop. Ivania Stack's costumes include sensible suits for Valerie and Elaine at the C.I.A. and a beautiful maroon silk outfit for Leyla. The lighting, by Kathy A. Perkins, is particularly effective. Several times, the lights go out at the same time phone connections are cut. Jane Shaw's music is especially powerful when the sound of a cello playing the Iraqi national anthem is followed by the sound of a brass whistle playing the United States national anthem.
The repercussions regarding who did what to whom and for what reason in the Valerie Plame Wilson affair are endless. What makes Intelligence so moving is that it creates a woman who could easily have been portrayed as a ruthless intelligence officer just doing her job. Instead, this Valerie is many things women are every day, but most importantly, in the most extraordinary situations, she remains a moral and honorable human being thoroughly dedicated to the safety of her assets and her family.