Why would a young woman with all the privileges of a Western Democracy leave family and home for war torn Syria? Selina Finger’s new play at Park Theatre brings to life the kind of story that is often experienced as headlines, shocking but not truly understood. What could motivate an eighteen year old girl to make such a radical decision? Not only do we become the jury in Susie’s trial but perhaps even more fascinating, we are witness to the extraordinary personal battles that take place between the lawyer’s outside the courtroom. It is here, in this presumably unchartered territory, that Finger’s writing is at it’s most thrilling.
Inspired by a true court case, Faceless is the story of Susie, a suburban teenager from Chicago who faces trial for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism after falling for an Isis ‘warrior’ online and setting out for Syria to meet him. All she had to do was hashtag ISIS on twitter to find witnesses for her conversion to Islam before becoming engaged to her ‘faceless’ friend on facebook and booking her flights. Recent Harvard law graduate, Claire is pressured into taking on the prosecution for the US government by her smug superior, Scott who recognises that a woman wearing a hijab will strengthen their case.
This is exactly the sort of show that works well in the small space at Park Theatre. The design of the production seems oddly uninspired, slides of office locations projected behind the empty stage but the dialogue is so gripping, it doesn’t matter too much. We are right in the room with the Susie and her Dad when she realises he was the one who turned her in after finding her boarding pass. We are metres away from Claire when she furiously states that she doesn’t want to become the face of Islam and he points out that 40% of Americans have never met a Muslim so she will become just that whether she likes it or not.
The real strength of Faceless lies in the sparring dialogue and obvious chemistry between Claire Fathi played by Paiage Round and Scott Bader played by Matt Mella. Rounds offers a fascinating mixture of vulnerability and power whereas Mella’s exudes laid back, alpha privilege. The polarities have sparks flying and the witty dialogue swings from emotional to laugh out loud funny.
The play ends, perhaps a little hastily as the trial reaches its conclusion. We the jury are asked, is this a systematic failure to protect a vulnerable teenager from the faceless terrorist organisation or is Susie an adult who had all the privileges America offered but chose to betray her country through terrorist activities? Beyond that we are left with many more questions around faith, grief and the human beings within our legal system.
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