Bruce Norris certainly doesn’t lack material in his new play, premiering at Steppenwolf. This story of an American missionary couple in an unspecified African country deals with the intricate relations of colonialism, capitalism and religion, not to mention the universal appeal of reality TV. But a warning sign appears early, when Norris’s occasional narrator (Jon Hill) advises the audience to leave before the play disappoints them. What might just be cheekiness looks more like defensiveness as the play takes a seriously questionable detour in its second act. After the idealistic Dave (Lea Coco) goes missing, the remaining characters engage in a lengthy debate over the torture of potential informant Etienne (Hill again). The last step in the normalization of torture, it seems, is its appropriation as a convenient dramatic device for demonstrating the playwright’s good intentions. Even more irritating is the play’s apparent, if inadvertent, endorsement of the right-wing canard that liberal proponents of human rights simply have yet to be mugged by the truth. (The staunch and shrill opposition of Dave’s fiancée Jane, played by Shannon Cochran, to the proceedings evaporates when she comes to think that Etienne is involved in Dave’s murder.) Anna Shapiro directs Norris’ undeniably witty and polished script with panache. The fine cast, including Rick Snyder and Amy Morton, perform the sharply constructed and entertaining first act with verve and nuance. But, as the title itself suggests, “The Unmentionables” ultimately founders on the conviction of its own courage. (John Beer)
This production is now closed.