There is nothing subtle about this terrorism-inspired comedy by British playwright James Walker (currently in a U.S. debut at Actors Workshop Theatre), but subtlety isn’t the point where terrorism is concerned. To that end, Walker certainly gets his meaning across. Jennings, an upper-middle-class barrister, checks into the hospital for a heart transplant only to learn that he has an actual ticker inside his chest—a time bomb wired to go off in less than an hour. In a style part Marx Brothers, part Monty Python, he is swiftly accused of being a suicide bomber and his “caregivers”—various idiotic functionaries of the British government’s war-on-terrorism—use whatever means necessary to extract information. This transpires much to Jennings’ confusion and deepening fear; he doesn’t know how the bomb got there, either. But once the jumper cables get clamped to his legs—earlier, the cables dangle ominously from under the hospital bed in a profoundly unsettling image—Jennings is willing to say just about anything. And absurd as it may seem, in light of recent events, a surgically implanted bomb is no less fathomable than, say, a shampoo bomb. The script itself is difficult and demands whippet-fast delivery and abrupt changes in tone. That’s not easy to pull off, but director G.J. Cederquist—a friend of the playwright’s since their time in the mid-nineties as students at a British boarding school—has cast the production with a careful eye for the play’s idiosyncrasies. (The lone exception is the nurse, played by Julie Griffith with a tenuous grasp on her English accent and the quirkiness of the role.) Despite the obviousness of the play’s intent, it works on a number of levels—not the least of which is that of a visceral horror story. At one point, Jennings is left to stew in his own panic, strapped to the bed and blind in the darkness—and very aware that someone is in the room with him. As disturbing moments go, it’s a doozy. (Nina Metz)
“Proving Mr. Jennings” plays at the Actors Workshop Theatre, 1044 West Bryn Mawr, (773)728-7529, through September 3.