It’s no wonder Frank McGuinness’s Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me has been produced ad infinitum since its premiere in 1992: It’s moving but not challenging, sad but affable, and requires the least possible amount of sets and costumes. It’s No Exit without teeth, a story about what lengths humans in captivity are driven to. And the playwright's answer is…not very far. That said, the right group of actors can take McGuinness’s workmanlike script to a higher level. And the TRUF, a new theater company, makes a fine feast of a weak stew.
The premise reads like a bar joke: An American, an Irishman and an Englishman walk into a Lebanese prison cell. And unfortunately, Someone doesn’t let them deviate far from their archetypes. The Yank, Adam (Justin Lauro), is gruff and go-gettery; Dubliner Edward (Timothy Riley) is full of blarney; and the Brit, Michael (Alex Teachey), spouts poetry and buries his emotions. Civilians all, the three don’t know why they’re being held captive, for how long or to what end. Chained by their legs to the floor in a windowless room with only each other for company, they find ways to stave off boredom, madness and despair. They talk about their lives, give each other grief and support, sing songs, tell stories and play what essentially amount to acting-class games.
Things never get as dark or as strange as they might were these actual people in actual captivity. (Faced with existential emptiness and/or imminent death, I think very few of us would take comfort in imagining ourselves behind the wheel of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.) McGuinness flirts with deeper themes, but almost always chickens out.
Still, the TRUF’s production is surprisingly powerful, thanks to strong performances from the young, committed cast. Director Lauro took over the role of Adam after the original actor left the production suddenly, but he blends in seamlessly; he brings compelling energy to the play's most underwritten character. Teachey infuses the potentially sissy-pants Michael with noble pathos; and Riley builds a hard layer of sadness beneath Edward’s bluster. With solid performers like this, TRUF may very well be going places. Here’s hoping that next time around, it picks a more daring script.—Jenna Scherer