"Avant-garde" and "risky" were the adjectives used in the press packet to describe The Terrorist, probably because "underdeveloped" and "ill-conceived," while more accurate, would come off as harsh. The Terrorist, an attempt at a noirish thriller and farce that is neither, is a tell-don't-show diatribe about the nation's state of affairs. Frank (George Tynan Crowley), a mealy-mouthed basement tinkerer, is developing some sort of thing—it looks like old wires and duct tape in a wooden box—that will help with the United States's anti-terrorist mission. Only problem is—as we're told about 700 times—it's kind of hard to tell the difference between terrorism and anti-terrorism when you start to try.
Frank's female companion (I'll call her that, because there isn't enough backstory or story-story to call her much else), Claire (Miriam Tabb), is a whimpering, doe-eyed young thing who communicates in pouts and shrill screams. Tabb isn't given much to work with, but manages to squeeze a few meager chuckles out of the role just by being strange.
Claire seems to want Frank in part because of the excitement he brings to her humdrum life. Or at least that's what she says. I doubted her, though, because Frank, with his rumpled clothes and hair, his loner's paranoia, and his inability to return a simple hug, seems to have the appeal of a street bum.
Frank's paranoia (and Claire's thrills) is derived from the attention of a pathetically unbelievable government agent, Paula, flatly played by Alice Connorton. Paula is the Big Brother in the bushes watching Frank's and Claire's every move. Connorton's best attempts at farcical menace hardly raised an eyebrow, and I found myself thinking that if her real-world counterparts at the Department of Homeland Security or, say, Guantánamo Bay were as ineffectual as this, we'd all be in a lot less trouble.
Perhaps Paula has dispatched Roger to watch Claire, his employee, or perhaps she hasn't. Who needs a story line, it's avant-garde! All we know for certain is that Roger, who looks like a kindly old gentleman, is keeping an eye on Claire's every move.
Director David Willinger seems to have been very excited by the cabaret setup of the Laurie Beechman Theater and has set a considerable bit of the action among the tables and chairs. We see Paula stalk Claire and Frank watch Paula. Roger watches Claire while Paula watches him. Because the world this play seems to conjure has no real through line to the one waiting for us outside, I was less than eager to be such an unwilling participant so much of the time.
Rather, I would have liked to sit in the dark and continue to ask my questions: If The Terrorist is a farce, why wasn't I laughing more? And if it's a farce that is meant to illuminate our present situation, why are its situations so unrecognizable? And while we're at it: why are three of the four actors so old? And why is the fourth black? Are these the results of Off-Off-Broadway's available resources, or were the casting decisions meant to communicate something about the nearly late, almost great baby boomer generation?
My questions remain unanswered. The good news is that for every bad play, there is the promise of a good one on the horizon. Sure, the Unofficial Yale Cabaret is finishing up its first season with a lemon, but there's always next time.