Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security now makes friendly house calls. At least that’s what writer Khaled presumes when two agents, Bartlett and Carl, stop into his studio apartment for a relaxed perusal and chat. “We appreciate this,” Bartlett assures the somewhat nervous young man. “This is informal. Casual. As casual as a visit like this can be.” Predictably, it isn’t long before the casual gives way to a rather strict program of aggression, intimidation, and indictment.
The title stems from Bartlett’s vain attempts to pronounce Khaled’s name with the proper raspy fricative. “It’s that back-of-the-throat thing,” a defeated Bartlett observes. As for this Back of the Throat thing, director Jim Simpson has once again steered the Bats (the Flea Theater’s resident company of young actors) into politically resonant if theatrically uneven material. El Guindi’s script places Khaled (Adeel Akhtar) squarely in a sympathetic light, then shades that portrayal with tinges of uncertainty and suspicion. It’s a neat effect, but achieved rather heavy-handedly and without much emotional payoff. The script gestures toward the claustrophobic, the paranoid, the terrible, but doesn’t realize those states onstage. (It also gestures toward the comic, with equally listless results.) This production doesn’t serve as much of a corrective, though Akhtar is excellent and Erin Roth, while unpersuasive in her triad of roles, is admirably leggy.
Though the dramatic storytelling is lacking, there’s a cleverness to the characterizations and some deft dialogue, which suggests El Guindi may be a playwright to keep an eye on (if not a hidden camera or a wiretap).