Thursday, October 31, 2013

The English Bride at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Ezra Barnes, Michael Gabriel Goodfriend, and Amy Griffin in THE ENGLISH BRIDE.  Photo by Bob Eberle.
The English Bride, Lucile Lichtblau’s award-winning three hander, now playing at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan, is an absolute gem.  Based on a real-life failed bombing attempt of an El Al flight from London to Tel Aviv in 1986, the play is, at one and the same time, a tale of terrorism and international espionage, a chronicle of lies and deceit, and a traditional love story.

There is no question that Eileen Finney (Amy Griffin), a plain, tough, common, working class woman from Leeds and the play’s title character, attempted to board a plane in London bound for Dusseldorf and Tel Aviv with a bomb in her suitcase.  Nor is there any doubt that although she, herself, was unaware of the bomb’s presence, Ali Said (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend), her Palestinian lover and fianc√©, was not only fully aware of it but was instrumental in putting it there.  Which left it up to Dov (Ezra Barnes), a Mossad agent, to find an answer not to the question “What did he know and when did he know it? but, rather, “What did he do and why did he do it?”

That question leads, inevitably, to many others.  What were the real circumstances of Eileen’s relocation from Leeds to London?  Did she truly love Ali?  Did he love her?  Was their original meeting accidental or premeditated?  Who was the stranger who visited Ali?  Did Eileen know who he was?  And on and on.

Finding answers to those questions is no easy task.  Neither Ali nor Eileen are paragons of virtue, after all, and sorting out their lies from their truths would challenge the ability of Diogenes, let alone Dov.  But in the course of the play, we do learn enough about all three characters to form at least tentative conclusions regarding what happened and why – although your conclusions may differ in many respects from mine and neither of us ever will be sure of the complete truth.

The role of Eileen Finney is the juiciest part in the play and Amy Griffin milks it for all its worth, in a manner reminiscent of a young Rita Tushingham.  She quickly makes it apparent that while Eileen may be one angry woman with a big chip on her shoulder, she is, at the same time, insecure and vulnerable; that we ought take whatever she says with a large grain of salt; and that she really is in love with Amir – unless, of course, it’s just that she’s in love with the idea of marrying him, bearing his child, and proving something to her mother and the rest of the world.

Michael Gabriel Goodfriend is equally sure-footed in the role of Ali Said, effectively conveying Ali’s political anger and personal emotional ambivalences – that is if there really are any ambivalences to be conveyed.   Eileen might lie if it suited her purposes but Ali’s lying bordered on the pathological – or not.

Nor is Dov any less likely to distort the truth to his own ends as Ezra Barnes makes clear in a marvelously understated and controlled performance.  He may not be the mirror image of Ali but they are worthy adversaries and the actors, themselves, play off one another in two sparkling performances.

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