Because old-style Broadway plays were built to fit a predictable pattern that was thought to provide maximum “effectiveness,” dramatic structure was always colliding with common sense, since people’s normal reactions to events rarely have much to do with how well spectators are going to like them. Lately, as newer and more ignorant producers have invaded Broadway in search of profit, plays that exploit the old cornball patterns have started to reappear in quantity. Only now, infected by the stupider and falser contrivances of TV and movies, the new crop of playwrights lacks the skill to wriggle free of the old structural demands.
Sixteen Wounded is set in a Broadway idea of Holland, where the native-born speak with an accent to prove they’re Dutch, and dancers, unsubsidized by the state, have to work part-time in bakeries. Crashing through the window of this particular bakery, owned by a Jewish concentration-camp survivor, Broadway dramaturgy sends a young Palestinian fugitive, and before you can spell conflict, the two men have bonded, Mahmoud is sifting flour, and Nora the dancer-baker is pregnant. Enter Mahmoud’s brother, the man from the IRA—sorry, PLO—and “within three days you will receive a package.” You write the ending; it’ll probably be more meaningful than Kraiem’s, if less “effective.”
None of this would matter if the issues involved were explored to any degree. And Sixteen Wounded does at least have the merit of making Broadway face matters over which it normally buries its ostrich head. But Kraiem’s piled contrivance so high that discussion barely peeps over the wall. Four fine actors strive honorably with his elaborate gadget; only Jan Maxwell convinces completely.