“Infidel” is written and directed by Christopher Vened.
It seems these days that terrorism is more a part of our daily language than any of us would have predicted.
As I was growing up in England it was the IRA that fed our fears, now there are too many factions to count and more variables of Middle Eastern, self-proclaimed ‘Muslim’ groups than ever.
“Infidel” is set in Iraq. In Bagdad, a group of Islamic extremists invade a museum in order to smash ancient and priceless idols in the name of Allah. An American anthropologist is taking a tour and buying a centuries-old clay tablet for a museum in the US. Wrong place, wrong time. The group, emboldened by their anarchic success take him hostage, sure the ransom will fund their activities for many months.
Ronak Gandhi and Aneesha Madhok
They retreat to their cave encampment outside of town and the story unfolds. A wild mix of disparate characters, each with their own agenda and reasons for their involvement in the movement, jostle for position. The anthropologist, naive and strangely calm considering his dangerous predicament, attempts to understand their plight, to reason with his captors and the connections that are forged between them offer us insight into the chaotic and uncertain roles played by these small independent, religiously motivated groups.
“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” I’m not sure where that quote is from, but it’s one I have used myself over the years. The anthropologist has the distinct advantage of knowledge over his captors. He understands the fluidity of the fight. How easily it is for our enemies to become our friends and visa versa.
This play really is fascinating. The performances are electrifying and the story as old as time. Anger and resentment turn to lethal outcomes when countries are invaded and religion takes up a cause. How can we compete with god? How can we find common ground with a people when we have not the first idea of how their lives truly are, how they live, who they love and why they hold so fast to their history and their belief?
It’s a simple staging and all the better for it. The play centers around the connections between these characters, their struggles, their sympathies and their goals. How they relate to each other, how they qualify their deeds and how very much like us they really are. We are all so much more similar than we are not.
I came away with a far better understanding of the importance of human frailty within a movement. How each of us are only a few steps and a few thousand miles away from picking up a book or a rock or a gun and using it to justify our pain. And how beautiful faith can be.
I highly recommend “Infidel.” This is something not often staged. A window on a world few of us would ever see told with empathy and a lightness that allows us the space to truly consider and to make our own judgements on how violence on an industrial scale can induce even the most pious to revenge.
Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari, Ronak Gandhi, Nima Jafari, Aneesha Madhok, Ted Monte, Moses Leon Norton, Edwin Scheibner, Michel Wakim
Running from September 1 – October 7, Saturdays 8PM and Sundays 3PM
The Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 91423