The REP's Heads | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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The REP's Heads

If you want to see character studies of civilian wartime prisoners, there are no equals.



E.M. Lewis' Heads, now at The REP, seeks to capture the experience of being held prisoner in a basement by strangers you can't even look at, set in the first year of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The actors know what they're doing, and respect the situation's gravitas. In particular, James FitzGerald's performance, as a prisoner held captive much longer than any of the others, is a treat to watch — assuming it can be called a "treat" to observe a starving man without hope of seeing his family again.

FitzGerald spends most of the show playing off of his British cellmate, portrayed by Diana Ifft. Tony Bingham and Patrick Cannon, meanwhile, appear as a second duo that rarely interacts with the other pair.

This play is written well and the actors are great. If you want to see character studies of civilian wartime prisoners, there are no equals. However, Heads continues what seems to be a trend with REP productions this season (as with Soldier's Heart): the overuse of projected video.

Director John Shepard falls into a common trap by not trusting the great performances he drew out. Instead, he shoehorns in a projector screen — American theater's heavy-handed equivalent of old superhero-comic narration.

In an early scene, for instance, a character mentions their captors filming a hostage video listing their demands. We're then treated to one such video, presumably because this show's target audience is sheltered middle-schoolers who haven't seen such productions ad infinitum through the tackiness of cable news. The live actors already have described the video using the ancient technique of dialogue, while the video itself had no subtitles and presumably didn't provide much more to chew on for Arab speakers.

Most of the clips are even less effective; some feature footage of deserts and children — images which seem dead-set on eliminating the claustrophobia the play was written to evoke. At some point in the theater world, Aristotle's unities were tossed in favor of aping montage techniques better suited to cinema. For a company run by a university's drama program, employing such talented people, it seems a shame to see so little faith in the actors.

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