Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pattern of Life by Walter McGough New Repertory Theatre

Pattern of Life
 by Walt McGough
New Repertory Theatre and
Boston Center for American Performance

Reviewed by Lawrence Kessenich

There are just six performances left of Pattern of Life—all happening this week, from Wednesday June 25 through Sunday, June 29—but if you can get to one of them, go! You will be rewarded with a powerful and thought-provoking dramatic experience. Tickets are available at

There are just two characters in the play, Rahmat, a Pashtun villager in Pakistan, played by Nael Nacer, and Carlo, an American serviceman who helps guide “drones” to their targets in Pakistan, played by Lewis D. Wheeler. Both characters address the audience passionately throughout the play, only directly interacting with one another in two well-modulated dream sequences, though they occasionally “see” each other in other ways. Being directly addressed consistently gives the play an immediacy for the audience that makes it hard to look away.

Nacer is one of my favorite actors in Boston, equally capable of being terribly menacing and deeply vulnerable, though the menacing demeanor only makes brief appearances in this play. Wheeler portrays Carlo as a “regular guy” who just does his job and believably shows the transition to a man confused by things he’s never had to think about before.

As you might imagine, it is to Rahmat’s village that Carlo guides his drones—or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), as he insists they must be called. Something happens in the initial attack that profoundly shakes both Rahmat’s and Carlo’s worlds, even though those worlds are thousands of miles apart—because the RPA is guided to its target from an Air Force trailer in the Southwest U.S.

Up until this event occurs, Rahmat has stayed clear of the radicals who visit his village, and who burned down the school where he taught, while his brother Atsak gets more deeply involved with them. Rahmat only remains in the village for the sake of Atsak and Atsak’s son, Rahmat’s nephew, Marjan. He would rather go “down the road” to a town where there are jobs and hope. But the results of the drone attack change all that, and Rahmat is adopted by the radicals as an example of why the people of the village must fight back. Ultimately, being in this position forces Rahmat to confront his life and discover what is truly meaningful to him.

Carlo, who has managed to not only rationalize his work with guiding RPAs, but to take pride in what that work has done to protect his fellow servicemen, is suddenly forced to face the sometimes evil consequences of his work. Not being a psychologically oriented man, he is thrown completely off balance by this experience and acts out in ways that only cause him more trouble. Vanessa, his partner in the RPA work, pregnant with her second child, who he had previously dismissed as cold and disinterested, turns out to the one who helps him begin to work through what has happened.

Both Nacer and Wheeler portray their characters with absolute conviction and make them psychologically true. It doesn’t hurt that author Walter McGough has given them great material to work with. You can’t help caring for both of these men, nor can you avoid being appalled by the brutal nature of a war conducted by remote control. McGough raises issues that are as fresh as today’s headlines and as old as the human race. It’s not every day that you have the privilege of seeing a play that manages to do both of these things effectively. Take advantage of this opportunity.

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