Do you really know the man that you live with? Eduardo Ruiz (played by Vidal Sancho) is a former European football star, who is seemingly happily married with 2 children, working as a soccer coach in San Diego. His family’s world is turned upside down when, on the eve of the family’s move to Phoenix, he is arrested on charges of terrorism. Not surprisingly his wife, played by Julia Eringer, is convinced that a major mistake has been made, and helped by journalist Marl Loomis (George Taylor) embarks on a crusade to find her husband and prove his innocence. While you may regard these themes as having been well explored in recent TV programmes such as Homeland, this play does raise some key issues. Is it acceptable that US citizens can be arrested and held without charge for indefinite periods of time, because there is deemed to be a risk that they might commit a terrorist act? Or that terror suspects can be sent to Afghanistan and Egypt for interrogation and torture?
However, if I were to ask the question: What would Homeland have been like if you tried to fit all 12 episodes of the first season into a 1hr 45 minute play? The answer would be that the pace would be bewildering and there would be too little time for any sense of character to be built. These are the fundamental problems with The American Wife, a new play written by Stephen Fife and Ralph Pezzullo, which has had its world premiere at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park.
The problems for this play sadly do not stop with ones of pace and 2-dimensional characterisation. There are also issues of credibility surrounding the plot. Is it really possible that a very high profile soccer star – he has played for Real Madrid and Valencia – could really have used his travels around Spain to away matches as opportunities to commit terrorist acts? Given the extent to which such footballers are the subject of a constant media presence this seems very unlikely. Similarly, the ease with which our heroine is able to travel from the US to Afghanistan and then to Egypt also stretches credulity.
Both elements of the plot could have been adjusted without causing problems. To deliver the plot in the allotted timespan the dialogue does sometimes lapse into being hackneyed and clichéd (which occasionally provokes unintended titters from the audience), but there are some positives, with the cast coping more than adequately with a wide number of differing roles. Emilio Doorgassingh is particularly impressive as an Egyptian army officer, Mitchell Mullen as both the father of our heroine and the US ambassador, and Julia Eringer delivers a strong performance in the lead role. A spare set and nimble adjustments by the cast allow the action to shift across the globe effectively and, with the action taking place as such speed, there is no danger of being bored. The obligatory twist, despite being perhaps too well telegraphed, does manage to enhance the plot towards the end, but I suspect that the end for this play will be when it finishes at the Park Theatre next week.