Enduring Freedom

Director: Emma Rice
Director: Roland Jaquarello
Author: Anders Lustgarten

Details: Finborough Theatre, Finborough Road, SW10 9ED
Tube: West Brompton
Performances: Tue-Sat 7.30 pm, Matinees Sat and Sat 3 pm (until 30 August 2008)
Running time: 2h

Photo Credit: Tanya Ryno. C.C. License.In short: A look back at the World Trade Center attacks and how they led a man to stray from his wife, political party and community.

In full: Post-9/11 grief for New Jersey firefighter Tom McFarlane leads to political activism and marital discord in Enduring Freedom, a well meaning but deficient look at America's reaction to the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Everyone has a coping mechanism when the Twin Towers have just crashed and many - including Tom (Vincent Riotta) - are learning their loved ones won't return home. Tom's wife, Susan (Lisa Eichhorn of The Europeans), goes borderline obsessive-compulsive with table settings before taking up art class, while Hanna Schneider (Equus' Fiz Marcus) turns in on herself from fear. Ray Villapiano (Charlie Roe) rants about levelling 'Ooga Booga Land' with bombs. As for Tom, he scoffs at the US government, which he believes ignored warning signs and wrongly lured an emotionally volatile country toward war.

Had the bulk of the plot been set a year, or several years, later, writer Anders Lustgarten's storyline would have been more fitting. But coming from the perspective of an American who witnessed the 9/11 aftermath, most of the country initially was too shocked to haggle Democrat-versus-Republican. Only later, when news of progress in Afghanistan had slimmed and the motives for Iraq invasion had evaporated, did protests and Bush bashing escalate. A major point of Lustgarten's plot is that Tom joined an unpopular minority, but the political disputes between Susan and him - and the rest of his community - feel contrived and heavy-handed.

Enduring Freedom, which shares the name as the US mission in Afghanistan, holds together enough for a smaller venue, but remains an unexpectedly foul-mouthed venture with scenes that jump unpredictably across months and years. The dialogue lacks US nuance (Americans don't say "row" or "I don't know what you're on about"), and accents for characters other than the McFarlanes waiver throughout.

On the positive side, the show's main prop - an interactive wooden American flag - is inventive, proving why designer Vanessa Hawkins (Hollyoaks), was nominated for best set design by the Irish Times Theatre Awards. And Eichhorn's portrayal of a woman broken by her son's death and husband's alienation is both sweet and moving.

Lustgarten, a British playwright of American parentage, has worked as a political activist and been banished from UK prisons and arrested by Turkish secret police. He clearly has strong views to share on terrorism and warfare, but just seven years after the Trade Center attacks, poor timing and stumbling presentation muffle the message.

- Jill Hilbrenner

Other Critic
- 'Anders Lustgartenā€™s play unsentimentally evokes the post-9/11 grief and paranoia that gripped America and the changing political landscape of the two years from 2001 to 2003.' Carole Gordon, Whatsonstage