The American Wife, Park Theatre, review: ‘not enough jeopardy in thinly drawn thriller’

The American Wife at the Park Theatre. Picture: Orlando James

The American Wife at the Park Theatre. Picture: Orlando James - Credit: Archant

A dizzying number of scenes featuring a distillation of racial stereotypes require more edge and invention to earn this play any stripes.

Not to be confused with Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel about former American first lady Laura Bush, this The American Wife by playwrights Stephen Fife and Ralph Pezzullo is a knowing political thriller set in the bleak world of rendition and terrorist suspects.

An intriguingly bland portrait of a seemingly perfect American nuclear family is set up: former soccer star turned coach Eduardo (Vidal Sancho) and his beautiful wife Karen (Julia Eringer) are about to move out of their San Diego home.

Karen’s devoted parents are on hand to help with the grandchildren. After Karen drops off the kids to finish packing, she discovers Eduardo has disappeared - taken to Afghanistan for questioning on suspicion of being a terrorist.

Fife and Pezzullo deliver what should be a tick-box hit – a play that explores the popular themes of terrorism in the homeland fused with questions about the impossibility of ever truly knowing those we love.


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But a dizzying number of scenes featuring a distillation of racial stereotypes require more edge and invention to earn this play any stripes.

Its exploration of interrogation techniques and the hideous Kafkaesque lock-down on information about detainees is frustratingly superficial.

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Dialogue is resonant of a derivative Hollywood screenplay. A looped soundtrack of screeching violins between scenes enervates rather than ratchets up the tension.

A flexible set designed by Zahra Mansouri makes good use of some simple corrugated partitions and there’s diverting sexual tension between Karen and handsome faux-journalist Mark (George Taylor) before a couple of disappointing plot twists.

Directed by James Kemp, the cast does their best but there’s not enough jeopardy in this thinly drawn thriller, which never quite catches fire.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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