"Every now and then I see a production where everything hums. Sylvia Khoury’s riveting, highly topical play is given an accomplished debut...Throughout the gripping story, Khoury has the wisdom to pepper moments of unforeseen normalcy – peanut butter and ballet class come to mind – that draw us in to otherwise untenable events. The work is all of a piece – no holes, no shortcuts. There isn’t a weak link in this terrific cast...Director William Carden is a virtuoso." Full Review
"Delicately crafted by unendingly talented playwright Sylvia Khoury and directed with precision by William Carden. The performances of the cast are measured, given the stakes of the play, and it'll be hard for you to find a wrong note. Tafti gives a compelling performance as Sayid, the man being watched, and Kakkar is convincing as his pragmatic other half Reem. A standout is Avery Whitted who plays Anthony, a young soldier, and provides some of the play's more explosive moments." Full Review
"Despite a strong opening scene that sets up a promising premise, we soon lose two of the lead characters, the supporting characters lose credibility and the playwright loses her focus. A potentially fascinating story about two couples ruining each other's lives while 8000 miles apart becomes a convoluted who-lives-and-who-dies saga...Pakistan scenes are well paced, but most of the Vegas action feels labored." Full Review
"We should be grateful a young playwright has at least chosen to engage with it. But 'Against the Hillside' does not live up to its potential. It is somehow too descriptive and too elusive, at once over-explaining and vague...Major characters drop out of the story, never to come back; uninteresting peripheral ones are gifted unnecessary scenes. And then the unexpected happens: Ms. Khoury pulls a nifty epilogue out of her hat...Makes for a satisfying coda to a frustrating show." Full Review
"The scenes are well acted and each scene is insightful, but as a whole the piece seems disjointed and clunky...Carden's direction does its best to piece together this stop and start script...Plot points get lost in translation. We never feel as if we understand why these characters do what they do. They all seem Americanized. There are also moments that seem contrived. I found myself wanting to know more on this subject, but I never felt that 'Against the Hillside' achieved its full potential." Full Review
"'Against the Hillside' would seem to arrive at Ensemble Studio Theatre at just the right time...Unfortunately, Khoury's insights on this matter are about as deep as Pakistan's Hanna Lake...Her efforts to illuminate the lives of her subjects mostly leave us in the dark...Rather than an incisive look into an unfamiliar part of the world, 'Against the Hillside' merely recycles the bootstrap myth in an exotic locale. It's a disappointing use of a topic brimming with dramatic potential." Full Review
“A well-meaning but mediocre play on a ragingly topical issue…For all the effort to demonstrate how the drones are damaging to both sides of the equation, the play fails to adequately reveal anything about the Pakistani side that explains their ideological positions or much about their village ways; they're simply theatrical pawns who don't want to be destroyed...Carden's direction lacks the drive to ignite continued interest…but he does get reasonably realistic acting from his company.” Full Review
"A frustrating series of choppy scenes dramatizing two shakily conjoined plot threads comprise Khoury's drama...Weak conclusion to an already unsatisfying play...Khoury's dialogue is straightforward and adequate...The production is not helped by Carden's heavy-handed direction...Carden's physical staging is rudimentary and the actions flow weakly. Most unnerving is that Carden has the actors speaking rapidly and being overly emphatic." Full Review
"Khoury's play is so strangely structured that it undermines its own best intentions. Its argument is so lacking in nuance that it communicates but a single point...Key characters drop out and the play wanders in several directions...With characters who amount to figures on a game board, and a total unwillingness to engage any of the complex political and religious issues surrounding the situation, it is next to impossible to care what happens...The play comes off as a Sunday sermon." Full Review
See it if You want to see a young writer and talented actors at work and you don't mind poor staging, frustrating design, and a truly jumbled story.
Don't see it if You need a coherent emotional arc, or well-drawn characters. It's upsetting to see a show with such high stakes handled so clumsily.
See it if you’d like a play that reiterates the fact that there are no winners in our never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Don't see it if you don't tolerate plays that substitute exposition for drama.
See it if you enjoy plays that are trying to make an interesting point but ultimately fail. Good staging by Carden does not help this inferior script.
Don't see it if you are looking for a cohesive drama.
See it if you are interested in how the military spies on terrorist suspects (real or imagined) and how this surveillance effects both sides.
Don't see it if you are not interested in how military actions effect both the military men and the people on whom they direct their surveillance.
See it if there are some smart, thoughtful ideas here, and engaging characters, though the play probably tries to bite off more than it can chew.
Don't see it if you need a fully realized world, or need to see the final word on a play: I feel like this script may be revised and tightened some day.
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