By Catherine Filloux; Directed by Elena Araoz
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 5.14.17
La MaMa, 74A East 4th Street
by Ran Xia on 4.28.17
Marco Antonio Rodriguez and Kimber Riddle in Kidnap Road.
BOTTOM LINE: A close-up look at Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt's psyche during her years in captivity.
First you notice the cube: white, sterile, and judging from the florescent light on the interior surface, a controlled environment. Inside the cube, there’s nothing but a woman lying in captivity: defeated, yet somewhat expectant. Then there’s a forest of rebars, extending in all directions, filling the space around this surreal, elevated cage. You feel at once as if in the midst of a jungle, and inside of someone’s nervous system. Even before anything’s happened, Justin Townsend’s set, along with Nathan Leigh’s soundscape, already captures the intense atmosphere of Catherine Filloux’s emotionally and psychologically charged play.
Kidnap Road is the story of Ingrid Betancourt (Kimber Riddle), a former senator and anti-corruption activist in Colombia. In 2002, during her presidential campaign, she was kidnapped by FARC (a Marxist revolutionary terrorist organization) and held hostage for six years before the Columbian military finally rescued her (and her fellow hostages) in July 2008. Filloux explores Betancourt’s mental state during her years of captivity, and details her experience through "intrusive memory" (a form of PTSD): while Betancourt spends almost the entire play in the cube, various characters in her life populate the void of her loneliness and trauma. The initial portrait of Betancourt is that of a progressive politician: she distributed condoms for an early campaign as a symbol of how voting for her would be protection against corruption.
The abduction silenced Betancourt in the middle of her campaign. So instead of becoming Colombia’s Eva Peron, she received less than 1% of the vote while being tortured in the jungle along with fourteen other hostages. Over time, we observe her in an increasingly fragile mental state, with only a Bible for reading material. However, it’s still clear that Betancourt never gives in: her response to her captors’ request to film a "proof of life" video is absolute silence. Fragments of her memories morph with her imagination; God appears in front of her, more as an imaginary friend than as an idol, in a state of religious euphoria. Marco Antonio Rodriguez plays all the male characters in the various pockets of Betancourt’s troubled mind. Versatile should be his middle name, as the actor effortlessly embodies Betancourt’s loving father, an American colleague, a friendly fellow hostage, the merciless guerrilla leader (always wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt), and a teenage soldier who takes pity on Betancourt.
The soundscape of the production is instrumental in providing clarity. For instance, the scenes between Betancourt and her father are accompanied by the sweet sound of a music box, signifying Betancourt’s distant memory, while the rumbling engine of a helicopter bookends the play as both the vehicle of her abduction and that of her rescue. Riddle's portrayal of Betancourt shows the evolution of the politician in distress, as we trace fragments of her memories to figure out the whole story. However, because the play is largely composed of monologues, Riddle’s stiff and somewhat detached delivery makes it difficult to connect with the character. While being despondent might be a symptom of her PTSD, it doesn’t seem to be an effective choice in conveying Betancourt's emotional turmoil in a dramatic setting. Furthermore, the lighting of the production is at times overwhelming. The fluorescent lights in the cube flare up without warning, thus becoming more of a distraction than an enhancement to the storytelling.
As a timely, politically relevant story, there is value in Kidnap Road. It offers a poignant anatomy of Betancourt’s psyche as a woman, a politician, and a victim of different ideologies in the crossfire. But more importantly, this shocking story holds a mirror up to how female politicians are treated in the U.S. as well. Although not kidnapped and tortured in jungles, we’ve seen many women in politics otherwise slighted or silenced by their male contemporaries.
(Kidnap Road plays at La MaMa, 74A East 4th Street, through May 14, 2017. The running time is one hour 10 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $10 - $20 and are available at lamama.org.)
Kidnap Road is by Catherine Filloux. Directed by Elena Araoz. Set Design is by Justin Townsend. Lighting Design is by Michael McGee. Sound Design is by Nathan Leigh. Costume Design is by Christopher Vergara. Production Stage Manager is Karen Oughtred.
The cast is Kimber Riddle and Marco Antonio Rodriguez.