Playwright Yussef El Guindi is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. After all, as one of the characters in his new play, “Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat, ” remarks early on, “Who isn’t pissed off these days?” In El Guindi’s engaging and robustly performed satirical race drama for Silk Road Theatre Project, the three central characters, all immigrants navigating the tricky waters of Western assimilation, all three consumed with issues of race and representation via the media machine (they are writers) and all three feeling the pressure to—culturally speaking—stand for something, are more noteworthy for celebrating Arab-American angst and anger than for being the conduits by which a non-Arab-American audience member may understand it. And that, unfortunately, renders a lot of “Our Enemies’” political anger insular and ineffectual, even though as relationship drama—a tricky love triangle develops between the two men and the woman they share—the piece remains entertaining throughout, thanks largely to committed performances across the board. I was, however, disappointed that the white characters were filtered through such an exaggerated and stereotypical playwriting lens—the swishy homosexual/patronizing book publisher; the pretentious Tina Brown-like literary queen bee; the condescending and culturally ignorant Larry King-like talk-show host. I’m guessing this is a deliberate choice, and one that confirms El Guindi’s newfound flirtation with satire. But, compared to his other characters, and especially when played alongside some of his most poignantly and earnestly written dramatic scenes to date, the results can be jarring and the playwright doesn’t seem to have found a unifying tone. At least El Guindi hasn’t lost his trademark cheekiness—one character describes himself as “the new Arab Zorro fighting back with birthday cake and lip stick” (trust me—it’s a hilarious quip that will make sense in performance). And while his dialogue still dazzles, a leaner script would have accomplished the same, especially when its entertaining garrulity seems to hammer away at the same old questions of race and identity without gleaning much insight. Following this author’s previous and increasingly ambitious output, from “Ten Acrobats’” humor as therapy to “Back of the Throat’s” fear as catharsis, “Our Enemies” is not as satisfying, trying too hard to say too much, nor does it offer as much dramatic payoff via an ending that smacks of contrivance. Nevertheless, it’s topical, accessible yet still exotic, and like all of his plays, a gift for strong actors. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, (888)745-5849. This production is now closed.