The strongest aspect of James Still’s most recent play at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Miranda, is the outstanding talent of the cast and crew. Through the actors, under the direction of Henry Godinez, the characters are portrayed as stronger than they were written. Also, the blocking—something that has been niggling at me lately—is done exceptionally well; characters move naturally, even on the relatively smaller IRT upperstage.
The title character (Jennifer Coombs) is an undercover CIA agent, which audiences can’t grasp until after the vague opening scene. She infiltrates a city in the Arab country of Yemen, posing as an outreach worker, coaching teens in Shakespeare (?). Her real purpose, under the supervision of senior agent Reed (Torrey Hanson), is to coax (and bribe) intel on al-Qaeda via a Yemeni female physician, Dr. Al-Agbhari (Arya Daire). Both agents are under the thumb of higher-up Lauren (Mary Beth Fisher), who calls the final shots. Miranda’s cover is slight at best, as only one student, Shahid (Ninos Baba), ever shows up to participate in the program.
Coombs effectively conveys the rocked emotional state of a woman who has made a mistake—a big one—but who perseveres anyway, anxious to prove to herself and her boss that she is still in the game. Reed’s almost paternal tough-love oversight of her helps bolster her through her first assignment post-disaster. They are coworkers, but it’s obvious that they genuinely care about each other too.
Daire is in excellent form, portraying the anxiety of a female professional practicing in the poorest Middle Eastern country, which is being ravaged in a civil war. She is torn among her loyalty and much needed service to her all-female clientele, her love and hope for her country, and her passion to protect her family.
Shahid’s character is that of a MacGuffin; he uses the themes of Othello to emphasize that things aren’t always what they seem, just in case the audience forgot. However, Baba gives Shahid exceptional emotional investment in his study of Othello, and his delivery of his character’s comments on it let the audience know that Shahid is intelligent and thoughtful, not just regurgitating Cliffs Notes. Baba gives Shahid personality and conviction that might not otherwise be seen.
Though short, Fisher’s appearances on stage are nonetheless compelling. She embodies the efficiency and confidence a woman in her position would have (and need).
The story arc can be confusing; often characters’ motivations aren’t revealed soon enough but also because Arabic is sprinkled liberally throughout the play and not often translated. The study of Othello, specifically Iago, also a character with a hidden agenda, roots “I am not what I am” as the through line for the plot, touching each character in his or her own individual way, even ones not present. The metaphoric implications are laid on too thick, IMHO.
- March 28 – April 23
- Backstage tour April 6, performance at 7:30 PM
- IRTea Talk April 9, performance at 2 PM
- Happy Hour April 11, performance at 6:30 PM
- Post-show discussion April 15, performance at 1 PM
- Cookies & Coffee April 13, performance at 2 PM
- Post-show discussion April 22, performance at 4 PM