Mesmerizing HUMAN TERRAIN Is a Story That Needs to Be Told

Mesmerizing HUMAN TERRAIN Is a Story That Needs to Be Told

Shozzett Silva and Kim Boler. Photo by Matthew Freer.

Review: HUMAN TERRAIN at Broken Nose Theatre

By Abigail Trabue

Every so often a play falls into the right company at the right time and becomes the example of what Chicago storefront theater is all about. That play is HUMAN TERRAIN and that company is Broken Nose Theatre. From the moment you arrive at Voice of the City’s nondescript door at the 3400 block of West Diversey, you know you are entering a space that isn’t going to seat 150 people in plush chairs, and yet you are absolutely OK with that. In a time when young start-up companies are desperate to find a home they can afford, Broken Nose Theatre has landed in a space that perfectly suits this play and suits their pay-what-you-can mission.

HUMAN TERRAIN is the story of anthropologist Mabry Hoffman (Kim Boler) and her time in The Human Terrain System, a real military initiative that embedded social scientists with combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. This production features one of the finest marryings of design I’ve seen all year and one of the finest ensembles I’ve seen in many a year. From the spot-on selection of which part of the room to tent off, to Martin Hannah’s superb dialect and translation coaching, HUMAN TERRAIN just hits mark after mark when it comes to balancing the numerous cultures, worlds and locations that take place. And all of this is silently supporting a cast lead by Kim Boler that left everything they had on that stage.

Boler’s Mabry Hoffman is a woman full of sorrow, confusion, passion, vulnerability and heart. She is a mother and a friend and you find yourself torn by her decision as if it had been your own. Boler takes every emotion, every line, and every moment right to her core and she doesn’t give you bullshit feelings or responses back. Shozzett Silva (Adiliah) gives one of the finest performances you will see all year. When Hoffman asks to see her face—and she complies—I dare you not to cry. The delicacy, strength, and understanding Silva gives to Adiliah will open your eyes to what it means to be a Muslim woman, and you will leave the theater a changed person. There is not one actor that doesn’t rise to the level of their scene partner, there is not one moment that falters.

Jennifer Blackmer’s script is a study in modern playwrighting. Blackmer has taken a subject that is still tearing our country apart and made it accessible, respectful, and absolutely mesmerizing in its structure and execution. Under the direction of Benjamin Brownson, HUMAN TERRAIN is a story that needs to be told and this is the company to tell it. Brownson clearly understands the stakes at play here and recognizes the painful parallels between our divided country and the script. He has placed a strong hand over this production, and has led this ensemble to tell the most honest story they can, no matter how hard or ugly that story might have to be at times.

As I left and walked out to Chicago on a Friday night I silently cried. HUMAN TERRAIN stirred up feelings that are hard to carry, emotions that you need to recognize, embrace, and release. This is a show that needs to be seen and a cast that needs to be heard. In a time when we are so focused on what divides us we need more shows like HUMAN TERRAIN, and we need more companies like Broken Nose making these stories accessible.

About author

Abigail Trabue

Abigail has worked as an actor/director in Chicago for over ten years, and along with husband Jason Epperson founded Lotus Theatricals in 2015, and PerformInk Chicago and Kansas City in 2016 (where she serves as Managing Editor of both publications). When not talking shop, Abigail is raising three padawans with Jason, drinking lots of coffee, converting school buses into RV's, and eating all the foods at Disney World. You can find her on Twitter @AbigailTrabue