Damascus attempts to tackle faith, politics, and race without a road map | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Damascus attempts to tackle faith, politics, and race without a road map 

Strawdog's production of Bennett Fisher's play feels like a torturous lecture.

click to enlarge damascus-3.jpg

Clark Bender

A parking lot lined with dirty snowbanks lit by fluorescent street lamps and populated by a minivan with its doors and roof removed takes up the entirety of Strawdog Theatre's stage. The set looks tailor-made for a Hellcab update; what Bennett Fisher presents instead is a tortuous lecture about fanaticism and class and race relations in America.

Hassan is a Somali-American airport shuttle driver so bad at his job that he's forced to live in his van because he can no longer afford an apartment. When a panicked white college kid named Lloyd wakes him from a nap at the Minneapolis airport and begs to be driven to Chicago, Hassan reluctantly agrees. A series of credulity-straining episodes follows, ultimately concluding with the young man's death and Hassan on a prayer rug by the side of the highway, bowing toward Mecca.

The name of this play references a New Testament conversion away from zealotry, but nothing within its muddled narrative gives the audience any road map as to who has been converted, what they've been converted to, or why. Hassan and Lloyd aren't people but crudely formed vessels for the playwright's heavy-handed ruminations on faith, politics, and economics and, thus, they're impossible to empathize with.

This is one road all concerned might've been better off not to have taken. Cody Estle directed.   v

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