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The Last 15 Seconds

Tonight I saw The Last 15 Seconds, currently playing in Victoria at the Metro Theatre. If you have the chance, go see it. I will admit upfront that the subject matter made me a reluctant theater-goer, and I was almost sure I would dislike the play. The teaser says, “You have 15 seconds left before the explosion. What would you say to the suicide bomber?” …Suicide bombings, in Jordan… Great… How uplifting (not)…

I thought for sure we’d get preached at, witness some kind of propaganda, get depressed…

Boy, was I wrong.

This play is absolutely brilliant in every respect: script, development, story, staging, acting – everything.

Yes, there’s a suicide bomber – Rawad Jassem Mohammad Abed, fantastically played by Trevor Copp. Yes, he is reared in a petri dish of violence, the legacy of Western (read American, but also French & English) policies. But he’s not given a free pass for what he does. Instead, the story – beginning with a surreal enactment of the bombing – slowly but surely brings together the bomber and his family with his victims, also represented by a family, all of which takes place “postmortem,” as it were. The script is one of the most intelligent I’ve come across in a while – the way the two sides meet, collide, and confront is worthy of a tessellation to decorate a mosque.

The acting by all five performers is stunning and kept me fully enthralled. Copp plays Rawad (and, briefly, a television talk show host). Alan K. Sapp plays the tragic figure of Moustapha Akkad, one of the suicide bomber’s victims. Sapp is perfect in the role, bringing the right combination of urbanity and sophistication, mixed with earnest moral and ethical seriousness.

The three women performers play two roles each: as mother, wife, and daughter to Akkad; and grandmother, mother, and bride to Rawad.

Pam Patel plays Rawad’s bride as well as Rima (Akkad’s daughter). She switches seamlessly from embodying a traditional bride who’s controlled by customs and by Rawad to being Rima, the American-raised shining apple of her Arab father’s eye. Copp (who is amazingly physical, starting with his death scene at the start of the play) and Patel acted out some of the most tension-inducing scenes, effectively leveraging a Thanatos-Eros dialectic. (Or was it a Master-Slave dialectic? …Hm.)

Anne-Marie Donovan plays Rawad’s mother and Akkad’s wife. She brings great gravitas to her essential roles as woman-in-between. In the Akkad family, she’s the serious woman between the idealistic-seeming daughter and the mischievous grandmother; in the Abed family, she’s the self-sacrificing mother whose husband was killed, the woman who has to let her child be raised by the grandmother while she works to keep food on the table. Both Patel and Donovan sing parts of their roles, and while Patel sings soprano, Donovan hits a mezzo (mezzo-soprano) note. Very effective.

Nada Humsi plays Akkad’s mother and Rawad’s grandmother. She is staggeringly good, able to move from sophisticated Westerner to traditional matriarch without skipping a beat. A native Syrian, she rejoices and cajoles and ululates in Arabic, which fully enriches the play. But aside from that authentic touch, she is just an amazing actress who really makes audiences understand the family dynamics, the traditions, and the deep emotions (joy and pain) embodied by her two characters. I absolutely loved her performance.

If you get the chance, go see The Last 15 Seconds. It’s playing in Victoria for another two nights. Then it goes to Vancouver.

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