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A CurtainUp Review
The English Bride

"Everyone is a liar, including myself. "— Dov
The English Bride
J. Paul Nicholas and Corinna Burns
(Photo credit: Paola Noguras)
Theatre Exile hosts the World Premiere of The English Bride, Lucille Lichtblau’s promising play built around the questioning of an Arab man and an English woman by an intelligence agent in the aftermath of a dangerous and treacherous event.This isn’t a crime mystery, so besides backstory there’s also forward-spill early on.

An interrogator, possibly Mossad, elicits information. As the couple’s story plays out, it becomes clear that the Arab had criminal intent toward his fiancée, the Englishwoman. It’s made equally clear that he was captured at some point in carrying out his plan. Interviews alternate with compelling scenes of past exchanges, full of truth and lies that illuminate and obfuscate. The question of why the fiancée and many others were put in jeopardy is not a pressing concern of the interrogator, who may have other fish to fry. The thrust of the play isn’t to determine whether or why the Arab did this thing, but rather to portray his humanity, shed light on the woman, and uncover surrounding circumstances.

Lucille Lichtblau jump starts a story in progress. Fast and taut writing hews to the idiosyncrasies of each character. Although it is of paramount importance to the playwright that first and foremost they be seen as persons, not stereotypes, our attempts to understand the characters are often thwarted by their versions and lies, which make it harder to know who they are.

Under Deborah Block’s thoughtful direction, each actor is exceptional in his or her own particular way: J. Paul Nicholas’s take on the charming perp, Ali Said, is hard to pin down. Is he sincere or is he ";a slim customer," as they would say in Lawrence of Arabia? Corinna Burns, a standout as a lonely bar maid from Northern England, may be a scrappy opportunist or may be a dupe. Damon Bonetti’s earnest but slippery agent carries a lot of the play’s freight in his central position between bomb-crossed lovers.

The performance at Studio X is contained inside an interrogation box. Three sides of the structure are open to view, but partly walled. The actors enter the box by portable steps which are then taken away. So no one leaves the space. During grillings and throughout scenes from the past, the focus is on two people, while the third actor sits on the side on a chair or a bench. Drew Billiau’s lighting design takes care of the rest.

The powerful beginning with its terse dynamic dialogue comes at the expense of longer narrated explications that become necessary late in the play. These monologues, while revealing, are less than forthcoming, for the playwright chooses to leave motives murky for the audience and perhaps even for the actors. From advance advertising one might gather that this play is right down the alley of a more political theater like InterAct. But it goes in a different direction. Well worth seeing — not so much for what it says, but for the inimitable way it says it — The English Bride intrigues, and Lichtblau is one hell of a writer.

The English Bride by Lucille Lichtblau
Directed by Deborah Block

Cast: Damon Bonetti, Corinna Burns, J. Paul Nicholas
Scenic Design: Colin McIlvaine
Lighting Design: Drew Billiau
Costume Design: Alison Roberts
Sound Design: Christopher Colucci
Nov 8- Dec 2
90 minutes with no intermission
Studio X. South Philadelphia, S 13th St.
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 11/15 performance.
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