How Many Miles to Basra at Stoneham Theatre

06Nov08

Runs through Nov. 9, 2008

Each of the characters in Colin Teevan’s “How Many Miles to Basra,” it seems, has a debt to settle.
How Many Miles to Basra?
The current offering at Stoneham Theatre follows an Irish radio journalist, Ursula (played by Eve Kagan), as the British military unit in which she’s embedded struggles to survive an unauthorized journey deep into Iraq just after the fall of Saddam in 2003. (Stoneham Theatre audiences will remember the talented Kagan for her performances as Louise in “Gypsy” and as Judith in “The Cutting.”)

The unit is battling boredom at a little-used checkpoint when an approaching vehicle arouses their suspicions. They pull the Iraqi occupants from the car and the ensuing search turns up a large sum of cash. When a scuffle ensues, exacerbated by the language barrier, one of the soldiers mistakenly thinks he sees a weapon and shoots both Iraqis.

One of the dying men manages to reveal that he and his associates were rushing to Kabro A Generals to pay ransom to the sheik who was holding his wife and child hostage and threatening to kill them. His village had sold everything to raise the money to buy their release. With his last breath, he begs the soldiers to deliver the money for him before the sheik kills his wife and son.

The soldiers are wary, but ranking officer Stewart (Derek Stone Nelson) decides that they must undertake the unauthorized mission through dangerous territory to deliver the money. “Saving his wife and son is the least we can do,” Stewart tells his charges. But for Stewart, the mission may be more about trying to atone for something he did years ago while stationed in Northern Ireland.

Geordie (Alejandro Simoes), the young soldier who fired on the Iraqis at the checkpoint, joined the army literally to pay off credit card debts that left him in deep trouble at home. “Longer I’m out here, the more of my debts I can pay off,” he reasons. “But each time we go out, I think there must be easier ways of paying off a debt.”

Rounding out the military unit are Freddie (Jerrell Lee), and Dangermouse (Joe Lanza). Freddie’s hatred of the war spills over into hatred of the Iraqis. “Raghead on raghead,” Freddie slurs. “Leave them to it. Iraq for the Iraqis, I say.”

Ursula’s commitment to being a truth-seeking journalist stems from the murder of her own brother by British soldiers in Northern Ireland and the subsequent cover-up of the facts.

For the dangerous trip across the desert to deliver the ransom, the soldiers secure the services of an Iraqi guide, Malek (Mason Sand), who has his own scores to settle.

Cristina Tedesco’s spare set consists of sand-colored carpet and fabrics, which, along with lighting, effectively convey the barren Iraqi dessert. This simplicity helps to place the attention where it rightly belongs – on these characters and on the performances of the actors, which are impressive across the board.

Producing Artistic Director Weylin Symes has again shown a knack for bringing lesser known but powerful works to Stoneham Theatre. Symes went to Britain to find a play about the Iraq War that puts a human face on the soldiers and avoids preaching to the audience.

While there is a slight anti-war tenor to the play, it is not overtly political. The central question explored is one that transcends the Iraq war. The play asks us to consider whether there can ever really be atonement and redemption for past misdeeds; or do our attempts to redress past wrongs merely hasten our descent into hell.

“How Many Miles to Basra” has strong language and themes and is recommended for adults only. The show runs through November 9 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham. For show times and tickets, go online at stonehamtheatre.org or phone 781-279-2200.

[HOW MANY MILES TO BASRA, by Colin Teevan. Directed by Weylin Symes. Set Design, Cristina Tedesco. Lighting Design, Christopher Ostrom. Sound Design, David Reiffel. Costume Design Charles Schoonmaker. Production Manager, Dave Brown. Projection design, Ryan McGettigan. Technical Director, Jason Cotting. Props Master, Lia Wright. Cast: Derek Stone Nelson, Eve Kagan, Jerrell Lee, Joe Lanza, Alejandro Simoes, Mason Sand, Janelle Mills, Bryan Miner.]

(This review originally appeared in the November 4, 2008 Wakefield Daily Item.)

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