"Blood and Gifts" (Timeline Theatre): Thrilling, Stinging, Frightening

"Blood and Gifts" (Timeline Theatre):  Thrilling, Stinging, Frightening

TimeLine Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of BLOOD AND GIFTS.

Reeling in the aftermath of 9/11, the United States became obsessed hunting weapons of mass destruction and Osama bid Laden.  Across the country, Americans scratched their heads and mused, ‘how did we get here?‘  Playwright J.T. Rogers answers that question by chronicling the 1980’s Soviet-Afghan War.  To crush the threat of global communism, the U.S. secretly supplied Afghan rebel forces with medical supplies and radio equipment.  As the war raged on, the covert operation distributed guns and later missiles to the Mujahadin aka “holy warriors.”  And being holistic supporters, through the U.S. alliance with the Inter-Services Intelligence, we even trained them to use the weapons.

Rogers writes the decade long history lesson from the perspective of CIA good guy Jim (played by Timothy Edward Kane).  A controlled Kane is the suave negotiator.  He brokers the deals to get the secrets.  It’s his personal connection to different factions that gives this show such powerful insight.  We aren’t reading about arms negotiations in a newspaper snippet or history book. We are seeing the people making the deals.  We are in the room with decision makers.  We start to understand their perspective and their stakes in the game.  This hindsight advantage is like watching a poker game over everyone’s shoulder.

Under the masterful direction of Nick Bowling, this isn’t so much a thriller as it is thrilling.  Rogers injects humor throughout the play, including hilarious references to American influence on Middle Eastern culture.  In one particular exchange, the engaging Behzad Dabu (Saeed) says to Kane, ‘you can do anything.  You are CIA.‘  Kane retorts, ‘Quit watching our movies.‘  Bowling mounts escalating tensions and then allows a joke to provide comedic relief.  Two regular lampooners are Raymond Fox (Simon) and Terry Hamilton (Dmitri).  Both with impressive accents, Fox - British and Hamilton -Russian, these guys provide a real human connection to the spy game.  We are invested in the transforming dynamic between Kane and the blustering Fox and the gregariously sly Hamilton.

The ever-changing nemesis role is at the heart of this play.  And nobody does that better than Kareem Bandealy (Abdul-lah Khan).  Bandealy rants with unbelievable fierceness.  He lies with cold steeliness   And he loves with deep honor.  He and Kane share a genuine tender moment and seconds later he has scared the bejesus out of me.  Bandealy’s oration in the finale is so commanding the lady to my right and I both simultaneously exclaim, ‘wow! What an ending.‘

BLOOD AND GIFTS is ‘how we got here.’  This dramatic analysis of the politics behind a revolution stings.  BLOOD AND GIFTS illustrates every decision is a trust moment between two people.  One lie unravels everything. And if everyone is lying, what happens next?  The legitimacy of BLOOD AND GIFTS left me effectively paranoid to what is happening now around the globe.

Running Time:  Two hours and thirty minutes

At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington

Written by J.T. Rogers

Directed by Nick Bowling

Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7:30pm

Fridays at 8pm

Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm

Sundays at 2pm

Thru July 28th

Buy Tickets at www.timelinetheatre.com

Photo by Lara Goetsch

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