Fringe review: The Pen and The Sword

The lighter side of terrorism...

Written by 2008 Prague Post Playwriting Contest Audience Award winner Jeff Kellner, “The Pen and The Sword” tells the story of a political cartoonist who has enflamed the Moslem world with a satirical cartoon; receiving a death sentence from an extremist cleric. The exact nature of the cartoon is unspecified much like the play itself which seems more concerned about high-jacking the situation for the inherent opportunities to preach quasi-philosophical stereotypes about religion, intolerance, government policy and unscrupulous entertainment industry power-brokers. Hampered by the sophomoric script is the charming Adam Stewart in the central role of the cartoonist, James Obrasky. Despite the fact that the script seemed unaware of his impending death ala a profusely bleeding foot, Stewart does his admirable best to keep the energy and momentum going.  After an almost promising but overlong set-up with an outsourced phone operator from Wisconsin (Nicole Grisco) the script comes to a grinding halt on the entrance of director Peter Hosking’s Inspector Monk and gets even more bogged-down by the entrance of James Lambert’s slick literary agent Nick Shine. James’ father (Gerry Turner) makes an appearance and his two scenes feel tacked-on and superfluous. The former a totally out of context bit of farce and the latter an unaffecting and unnecessary lecture on how his son always liked to cause trouble even as a boy.

The highlight of the play is the scene between James and his Moslem friend Roger (played with ease by Antaress Felken) as they debate the moral correctness of both the cartoon and the decision James must make regarding it—however the play has no distinct point of view on this subject and so adds nothing new to the debate. One has the feeling the actors and the director did the best with what they could—perhaps Hosking, although adept in eliciting engaging performances, could have allowed the actors to simply sit and talk more and not burden them with the necessity of walking around the room for the sake of visual variety—however the script is an idea for a play not a play. “The Pen and The Sword” bears a slight resemblance to the political awareness of “Public Relations”, Kellner’s previous success dealing with the Iraqi war, but at twice the length of that play, the flaws and holes are readily apparent and like much of the new writing of this Festival, it could have used another draft or two before public presentation. The play closes Monday.


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