Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hostage Song (Kraine Theater)

BOTTOM LINE: Hostage Song will make you laugh, have your head bopping and fingers snapping, and induce a panic attack. How many theatrical experiences - other than the Republican National Convention - can lay claim to that?

About halfway through Hostage Song I accepted that the two main characters probably weren’t going to take off their blindfolds or unbind their hands. And while acceptance of this allowed me to experience the balance of the play without the expectation that my desire would be satisfied, it did nothing to alleviate the anxiety this play induced in me. Thank God.

Hostage Song is an incredibly effective play on many levels. It is a rock musical a la Rent and Spring Awakening, with a lively onstage band, a fantastic score and great voices bellowing out songs that will have your head shaking and your toes tapping well into the night. It is a complicated drama about two people held physical hostage in a land the authors go out of their way to not identify by name. It is a story about two people held hostage (perhaps emotionally and psychologically) by the damage, insecurities and limitations imposed on them by their families, their pasts, and perhaps even themselves. It is also enormously and unexpectedly funny. It is no small task to incorporate all of these elements and weave them into a coherent and engaging narrative that examines and illuminates the human condition, yet the creators of this fine work have done just that and more.

What I loved most about this play was the way it teased and taunted me by taking seemingly opposing tactics to tell its tale, thus leaving my expectations and desires evolving along with the narrative. As I already mentioned, many elements pertaining to the specific setting of the story were vague. It was similarly vague about most of the relationships each of the characters had to each other. By not explicitly identifying anything, it put the onus on me to label everything. The inclusion of a band on stage playing lively pop-rock songs didn’t seem to jive with a play about two hostages in a war zone whose fates seemed doomed; the music was loud and mostly upbeat which was an interesting juxtaposition to the quiet sense of slow motion that permeated most of the dialogue-driven scenes between the two prisoners. Because the two main characters were blindfolded for the entire play, there was a sense of danger and tentativeness to their movements which played in opposition to the members of the band who, with no blindfolds on, moved with grace and confidence, weaving themselves in, out and around the stage and the story.

Hostage Song is ultimately about two human souls trying to connect as they face a potentially violent end. The ability to do so is challenged because they are denied the opportunity to actually see or touch one another. Then again, maybe by denying them this opportunity, they are able to more acutely see and touch one another, and thus connect. Likewise, we as an audience are able to see and to be touched.

This play is a challenging emotional experience. The music and the humor alleviate that to some degree, but ultimately the strength of this play is its unwillingness to abandon its principles (so that I wouldn't be more comfortable sitting anonymously in the dark). If I had been comfortable, I would have been no more than a passive observer to the hostages instead of one of them.

(Hostage Song plays at the Kraine Theatre, 85 West 4th Street, until April 26th. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 8pm. Tickets are $18 and are available by calling SmartTix at 212-868-4444. For more information visit

Photo by Samantha Marble: Hanna Cheek and Abe Goldfarb.

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