By: Laura Fries
Kudos to Port City Playhouse and director Rosemary Hartman for bringing a play about prisoners of war to light in such a poignant, powerful way. Like the mournful sounds of the Ella Fitzgerald song, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is a harrowing tale of three men bound to look out for one another under the most horrific of circumstances. Written by Frank McGuinness, the play is drawn from the experiences of Brian Keenan, who along with Terry Anderson and John McCarthy, was held for several years in deplorable conditions in Lebanon. Time and place isn’t essential here; the men aren’t even sure who their captors are or if they’ll ever get out alive. Covering many facets of the human condition, the play explores the notions of survival through bravery, humor and brotherhood, and sometimes, even frat house humor. In fact, Edward Sheridan (Matthew Randall) the Irish journalist, often recounts sexual fantasies, movie plots and different make-believe games to help fight boredom, and more importantly, keep his sanity. He and his cell mate Adam Canning (David James), an American physician, discuss a wide range of topics to keep up their spirits and to show their unseen captors they have yet to be broken.
As the time of their captivity goes on, they confront inner demons and are joined by Michael Watters (John Shackelford), an English professor kidnapped while shopping for a dinner party. Interestingly, this little microcosm of nationalities conveys more global truths. While their own prejudices and grudges come out, so does an overwhelming desire to retain their humanity while experiencing the worst of it in others. With sparse sets and props, the play relies on the emotional charisma of the actors who are all up to the task. Randall dons a pitch perfect Irish accent consistently throughout, but is emotionally expressive even when his character isn’t trying to pick a fight with his fellow captives. James is at times manic and paranoid; having been there the longest, but is the rock that Edward depends upon. Shackelford as Michael thoroughly personifies the thoughtful, seemingly frail academic who turns out to be a lot stronger than anyone expects. While many stories would focus on the brutality and suffering of the situation, it’s the triumph of the spirit, the quiet moments—the strained tunes sung by three desperate men, which give the play its power. Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me runs until May 5.