Courtroom dramas have long been a staple of mass entertainment. From TV’s Perry Mason to plays and films like The Caine Mutiny, Court Martial and A Few Good Men, audiences have long enjoyed the compact drama provided by a judicial trial. Playwright Selina Fillinger has written a worthy addition to the canon with Faceless, running now at 6th Street Playhouse.
Susie Glenn (Isabella Sakren) is an 18-year-old Chicagoan on trial for “conspiring to commit acts of terrorism.” Seduced and recruited online by a member of ISIS she knew as “Reza,” she converts to Islam and is apprehended on her way to become his bride.
U.S. Attorney Scott Bader (David Yen) is determined to make Susie an example for other easily manipulated youth and figures the best way to do that is to have one of his assistant attorneys lead the prosecution. Why? Well, it might strengthen their case against a young, female Muslim defendant if it’s led by a young, female Muslim prosecutor. Claire Faith (Ilana Niernberger) at first resists the appointment as mere tokenism, but soon sees the case as a way to defend her faith against those who would corrupt it.
For the defense, SusieClaire’s father Alan (Edward McCloud) has hired top-gun attorney Mark Arenberg (Mike Pavone). He has his hands full dealing with a defendant who, upon looking at a photograph of her, is seen by one person as a confused young girl and by another as an angry young woman.
Which persona will the jury see?
Former 6th Street Playhouse artistic director Craig Miller returns to direct this crackling drama. Set in the round in the Studio Theatre, the focus switches back and forth between the two sides as they prepare for trial with sidebars to Susie’s social media–facilitated enlistment.
Conflict is at the heart of all good drama, and the religious, political, personal, and legal conflicts that envelop these characters all make for a gripping evening of theater.
Miller’s cast is terrific and deliver Fillinger’s sharp and often uncomfortably humorous dialogue via somewhat stock but nevertheless dynamic characters. All are excellent, with McCloud doing some very heavy lifting as a man living a parent’s worst nightmare—a child accused of a heinous crime.
An absorbing script, topnotch performances, and some very effective technical elements combine to make Faceless one of the most compelling courtroom dramas in recent memory. Case closed.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★½