It’s a living?

Pub date February 4, 2009
WriterRobert Avila
SectionArts & CultureSectionStage

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REVIEW Amid worsening violence between their respective Sunni and Shia communities, even old friends Adnan (Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari) and Laith (Amir Sharafeh) are prone to argue along sectarian lines. But these squabbles are more than offset by a dire mutual predicament: as Iraqi translators working for the U.S. occupation in Baghdad, Adnan and Laith live as persons "in between," precariously balanced between glib and suspicion-prone American employer and outraged fellow citizen alike. Along with Green Zone coworker Intisar (Denmo Ibrahim), who as an Iraqi woman eschewing hijab and working for the Americans earns special disfavor with many countrymen, they risk being labeled traitors and becoming friendless targets of a ruthless insurgency. At the same time, they find the American bureaucracy less than willing to help, whether by upgrading their security clearances or, when all is lost, providing them asylum in the United States. Fortunately, there is one "good" American — isn’t there always? — who goes to bat for them, in this case a young information officer named Prescott (Alex Moggridge), whose strenuous efforts achieve mixed but significant results.

If you pretend it’s actual news, journalist and author George Packer’s first play, Betrayed, might at least have the merit of bringing us something we didn’t know already about the "situation" in Iraq, as it is still so often called. But who will be surprised to learn that Iraqis working for the extremely unpopular U.S. forces find themselves in a terrible double bind? Or that the American occupation seems lacking in its will to address its moral, let alone legal, obligations to the people it has invaded and made more desperate than ever?

Based on Packer’s 2007 New Yorker article of the same name, Betrayed seeks to put a human face on such in-between persons, and Aurora’s West Coast premiere, helmed by Robin Stanton, does a reliable and respectful job of rendering the action. There are moments of convincing dramatic tension, including Ibrahim’s affecting monologue about her life, relayed to an unseen reporter, and a confrontation between Laith and a harrying Regional Security Officer, played with credible aggression and conviction by James Wagner.

Still, it all feels less like urgent news than a somewhat wooden and familiar form of special pleading. Beneath its critical take on the American "mission" — truly a neat word for it — Betrayed puts Iraqi voices in the service of that other insular project: that of redeeming the myth of American moral superiority, even while chastising the failings of the George W. Bush–era government and foregrounding the play’s composite but real-life Iraqi protagonists. Thus, Betrayed‘s last lines go to Adnan, now a refugee, who rejects the accusation in the play’s title, confessing to a natural lack of faith in people while somewhat contradictorily continuing to "dream about America."

You have to wonder, did the Romans need to be liked this much?


Through March 1

Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.; $28–$50

Aurora Theatre

2081 Addison, Berk.

(510) 843-4822