Abandon hope all ye who enter here!
By Beatrice Williams-Rude
Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is billed as a “dark musical comedy.” Given the realities of Saudi Arabia—atrocities worthy of ISIS: beheadings, crucifixions, lethal floggings, all regular Friday public entertainment—there is dark material in abundance.
This theater piece is about an American couple, ostentatiously Christian, who go to the oil-rich kingdom when the husband, Hank, played by Joey LePage, gets a big-paying job there. His wife, Tina, played by Jessica Dean, has reservations about the move and her negative expectations are more than realized as she learns how women are treated in the Sunni theocracy.
Another ex-pat couple, Dick, played by John Smiley, and his wife, Fanny, played by Sarah Grace Sanders—she of the glorious body to diet for—tries to help the newcomers adjust.
Randy, played by John Gasper, is the ghost of Tina’s aborted fetus, who appears and re-appears acting at times like a Greek chorus.
Zillah, an Arab women, all covered in black, except when she’s shaving her legs, is played by Ruthy Froch.
Abdullah, delightfully portrayed by Christopher Michael McLamb, is the Arab contact. When he’s on stage lead turns to gold.
Far and away the best music in this “dark musical comedy” is heard before the work begins: as the audience is being seated the score of Lawrence of Arabia is piped in.
Theater C at 59E59 is a small venue with no more than 70 seats. Even a neophyte performer who’s barely learned how to project should be able to be heard anywhere in this theater. Yet, hand mikes were used for the songs, blasting the audience. That mostly, instead of singing, the performers seemed to be shouting, might be the fault of the director, Luke Landric Leonard, who also wrote the book, although the composer, Peter Stopschinski might share responsibility.
The musical numbers serve to interrupt what action there is, rather than enhance it.
The jokes gets laughs—much needed—and arguably the best line is Abdullah’s when he says the future in not in oil but in finance, and he’s going to Yale to get an MBA.
Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia deals with the period of 1979-2003. Act One is titled “1981 (The Iran-Iraq War)”; Act Two “1991(Gulf War)” yet little is done reflecting the supposed focus. A trove of dark material is there to be mined—but isn’t. Even when it screams to be addressed. Dick Cheney is mentioned as the Iraq attack plays out, but not that most of the 9/11 bombers were from Saudi Arabia, not Iraq.
The title of this work is so inviting, the subject matter interesting in the extreme, but, alas, it’s all in the execution, execution in all its meanings. One sees the intentions when studying the script, but it reads better than it plays.
By the time we get to the end with Hank adjusted and identifying with the Saudi’s but Tina proclaiming Christianity and denouncing Islam, Hank who’s been condoning beheadings, reaches for the sword that’s hung above the stage from the beginning, presumably to behead Tina. But who cares?
The most cogent comment on this work? The house was packed and people frantically searched for seats before it all began. After intermission about a third of the house was empty.
Welcome to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia will run through Oct. 25 at 59E59, Theater C.
Photos: Maria Baranova