A powerful and thought-provoking drama, A Man Like You tells the story of a British diplomat abducted by Somali terrorists and held for ransom for months. Throughout the work, Kenyan-born playwright Silvia Cassini addresses one overarching question: What constitutes terrorism? The piece chillingly delves into a world ravaged by colonization, the plight of the Somalis, radicalization, Islam, the current political scene, and what exactly so many so-called legitimate governments do in the name of democracy and thinly veiled corporate interests. Very little is being referenced in the media about Somalia beyond piracy. A Man Like You is a play to be experienced.
The vast majority of the fast-paced and intricate dialogue, against the backdrop of a distraught wife, is between Patrick North (Matthew Stannah) and his abductor, Abdi (Jeffrey Marc). Andrew Clarke plays a Somali rebel guard.
Director Yudelka Heyer heightens the emotional and often violent physical relationship between North and Abdi. By design, the tension is palpable from the moment North, hooded and gagged, is thrown into the cell and chained to a metal cot. Taunted by his captor, North eventually acquiesces to what seems like his abductors’ only demand—that he sign a letter replacing a company that has been preferred for a government contract, but not after challenging them: “You really expect me to believe that all this is just to remove a single individual who some warlord ‘dislikes’?” If this were the only reason for his abduction, life would be simple, and A Man Like You is not simple.
It is wrenching and skillfully presented, with acting that is complete and detailed. The audience is on two sides of the stage and in some cases sitting at stage level. The smartly designed set, by Christopher Wharton, bifurcates the stage with a windowless cell at the front closest to the audience; behind it, slightly raised, is the living room of the North’s home in Nairobi.
Credit is due Cassini for what must have been exhaustive research, resulting in a script that is as tightly crafted as a century-old Berber carpet. The argumentative dialogue details the plight of the Somalis through decades of colonization, and it becomes clear that they are just pawns in a greater political and well-funded chess game.
Heyer is from the Dominican Republic, a country with its own history of strife and political upheaval. As director, she helps Stannah and Marc deliver a knockout punch that drives their performances to the edge of sanity. They, along with Clarke, realistically play the strongly staged fight scenes. Interjected as counterpoint to the scenes in the cell are the monologues of North’s wife, Elizabeth (Jenny Boote). Boote brings a calculated, reserved British air to her nuanced performance as North’s clearly distraught wife.
Much has been written about the American Revolution rejecting the control of Britain and the monarchy. No doubt the conversation in Britain was about the terrorists commonly referred to as “the colonies,” while on this side of the pond it was considered a revolution. Using the conflict in Somalia as the canvas, A Man Like You rips apart the oft-used language we are quick to label terrorism.
Performances of A Man Like You, presented by RED Soil Productions, are at 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays through July 31 at IATI Theater (64 East 4th St., Manhattan). Tickets are $30 and may be purchased by calling (800) 838-3006 or visiting BrownPaperTickets.com.