Exceptional FACELESS Explores American Identity

Exceptional FACELESS Explores American Identity

Pictured: Susaan Jamshidi and Lindsay Stock. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

REVIEW: FACELESS at Northlight Theatre

By Elizabeth Ellis

Who are we as Americans?

Does a uniquely American identity exist, and if so, how do we define it? If we also define ourselves through our race, ethnic background, or religion, why don’t some fellow citizens consider that as well to be a “real” American? In light of recent events, Americans are asking these questions more often and with more intention, and often more rancor, behind them than most of us can remember.

In Selina Fillinger’s FACELESS, premiering at Northlight Theatre, we witness events leading up to the trial of 18-year-old Susie Glenn, a white middle-class woman who has been charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism. Susie’s circumstances — a lonely and vulnerable girl, still mourning the loss of her mother, and desperate for a feeling of real family and true connection — present a near-perfect candidate for a terrorist predator, aided so thoroughly by the anonymity of the internet.

Susie met, fell in love, converted to Islam (via Twitter), and became engaged to her ISIS soldier fiance online. The authorities arrest her while she was trying to meet her fiance in ISIS-held Syria. The lead federal prosecutor on the case cynically chooses to bring on Claire, an up-and-coming attorney and a Muslim, to assist on the case. Claire at first declines, refusing to try the case while simultaneously leading with her faith. She changes her mind when she realizes that her young and dim client could represent Islam to the general public.

B.J. Jones’ crisp direction keeps an energetic pace, perfect for a courtroom drama, and each member of his cast shines in their roles. The wonderful Susaan Jamshidi brings a quiet dignity to her Claire, yet just below the surface she holds the frustration of regularly being reduced to an other, to being the “face” of Islam to anyone she encounters, when all she wants is to work as a lawyer and live her life without labeling. Lindsay Stock’s heartbreaking Susie shows a gawky, awkward teenager with the ferocity of commitment novices bring to a cause. Balanced with her devotion to Islam is her ultimately doomed belief that her relationship with her fiance, created and nurtured only in cyberspace, is a real partnership and true love. Timothy Edward Kane’s excellently clever and jerky lawyer Scott easily uses casual racism as a means to an end, dismissing Claire as one of “you people.” Joe Dempsey is pitch-perfect as Susie’s father, Alan, a good and caring man uncomfortable with intense emotional situations, whose life recently has been nothing less than an emotional hurricane. Ross Lehman’s Mark, Susie’s attorney, beautifully tends to Susie as a wise and steely lawyer, and a compassionate father figure. John Culbert’s spare gray set brings a modern interpretation to a an old courthouse, and Stephan Mazurek’s emoji-laden laptop projections transport us to the bedrooms of teens who live their lives through social media.

FACELESS tells a compelling story that forces us to think about who we label as “other”, and how we need to face the discomfort of these necessary discussions instead of dismissing them. You will be talking about this show long after you leave the theatre.

FACELESS runs through March 4th. For more information visit northlight.org.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.