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'Asymmetric': A Spy Thriller on Stage

Ground Up Productions takes on drone warfare and international espionage.

Photo by Deb Alexander

It's 2am, and washed-up ex-spy Josh finds himself in an interrogation room in the CIA facing Zach, the new head of the division he once led. Before long, the young head of the Fifth Floor ropes him into a problem of international significance, and the person in the center of it all is the one agent no one else can crack: Sunny, his ex-wife. And when every actor on stage is a spy, how can you tell whose side anyone is on?

Set in October of 2015, Mac Rogers' Asymmetric is full of political quandaries particularly relevant to today, from the morality of drone warfare and America's international reputation to the competing importance of domestic and foreign policies. It is also completely hilarious without being in the slightest a comedy, keeping tensions so high that you're on the edge of your seat even as you laugh at the witty one-liners and Doctor Who and Star Trek references. Nowhere else will you ever hear the line, "What kind of treason—strawberry?" spoken with such conviction.

Though Asymmetric is an international espionage thriller, at its heart it is also an office drama, where four workplace stereotypes--the natural leader, the insecure bureaucrat, the awkward nerd and the woman who's over it all--go head to head in a battle about priorities. Despite the tropes, however, the interactions are still refreshingly human, from Ford's bitter mockery of his superiors to Josh's sensitivity about his battle with depression that destroyed his marriage.

Our protagonist Josh is a difficult role to play, as the former spy is a master of hiding his intentions, and Sean Williams brings a subtle sense of vulnerability to the character. He never really seems like an alcoholic, but focuses instead on his clearly stronger than ever love for Sunny and fear of disappointing her even as he has to interrogate her for treason. Kate Middleton's Sunny alternates between the unemotional confidence of an agent under duress and a heartbroken woman encountering her ex-husband for the first time since he begged her to leave him, becoming a fascinating presence on stage as those roles merge.

The couple is the heart of the story, but this play would not be complete without the hilarious interactions between Zach (Seth Shelden), the new boss worried for his job, and Ford (Rob Maitner), the trigger-happy interrogator who gets intense joy out of watching everything fall apart. This diverse cast of characters creates a scene that feels far more realistic than you would expect for a drama about a drone that can secretly assassinate civilian targets and then remove evidence of its existence.

In such a small theater, the audience is practically crowded into the interrogation room with Josh and Sunny, creating a visceral sense of urgency and secrecy. It also allows this small group of voyeurs to become part of their incredibly intimate relationship, and when all is said and done, the pure love that comes through from the once forlorn Josh is heartwarming. Clearly, this play is far more than your average spy thriller.

Asymmetric plays at 59E59 through December 6. For more information, check out their website.

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