After Leo McGann received the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival’s National Partners of the American Theater Playwriting Award for “The Honey Trap,” director Adam Kassim had high expectations to live up to with the play’s debut production at the Boston Playwright’s Theatre. He did not disappoint. The emotional delivery of the leading actors, impressive staging, and engaging sound design combined to create a memorable performance.
An Irish tragedy, “The Honey Trap” revisits twisted events that transpired in 1979 when present-day Boston student Emily (Grace Georgiadis) interviews veteran Dave (Barlow Adamson) for an oral history project. He recalls the night that he and fellow British soldier Bobby spent at a pub in Belfast while off-duty. Dave unwittingly escaped death by returning to the barracks, but not before convincing his friend Bobby to go home with Irish girls Lisa (Maggie Markham) and Kirsty (Sarah Whelan), undercover IRA conspirators. Years later, when guilt-ridden Dave uses Emily’s project to locate one of the women, whose real name is Sonia, the past is suddenly not as distant as Dave believed.“The play explores this relationship of the past and present through memory, guilt, recrimination, and retribution,” writer McGann said.
Professionals Barlow Adamson and Maureen Keiller star as Dave and Sonia, respectively, and their extensive experience showed. The college students who portrayed the remaining characters lacked some of Adamson and Keiller’s ease of delivery and overall believability. Yet while the younger actors did not quite possess sufficient experience to reach the standard set by their seniors, their performance was nothing to dismiss. The natural camaraderie between young Dave (Conrad Sundqvist-Olmos) and Bobby (Ben Swimmer) was especially impressive, as were the thick Geordie accents they maintained for most of the play.
Though the opening cacophony of garbled voices and clashing music that filled the theater grated on the ears, its appropriateness soon became apparent amidst the ensuing pain and confusion of the narrative. Overall, sound design by J. Jumbelic proved integral to the performance. As Dave and Emily dredged up more details from the past, auditory cues helped draw connections to the present that the audience might otherwise have missed. For example, when Sonia repeats a phrase that she spoke as “Lisa” years ago, Jumbelic superimposes her echoing younger voice over it, creating a chilling effect that replicates what Dave is undoubtedly feeling.
“The Honey Trap” did not allow the inherent limitations of a stage or live performance to hinder its delivery but rather ingeniously used such features to its advantage. Scenic designer Jeffrey Petersen’s tri-level set successfully enabled the portrayal of various times and locations in an intimate black box theater. At times, scenes from the past and present simultaneously unfolded, giving the illusion of a triggered memory playing out in characters’ heads. Petersen’s attention to detail was also impressive: He includes graffitied walls and a shattered window to prevent audience members from forgetting the violence of the Troubles, even in present scenes. The broken glass also corresponded to the image seen on the play’s program, an ominous reminder of its dark subject.
Kassim took advantage of the set design to give the late Bobby a haunting omnipresence throughout Dave’s adult life, especially as thoughts of forgiveness and revenge warred within him. While Dave stood on the main stage, Bobby loomed above him on the set’s upper tiers or lurked on the outskirts of the stage floor. In addition, the characters’ younger selves sometimes played out Dave’s past experiences as he described them to Emily. Initially, the visual representation of his statements convinced theatergoers of their accuracy, but as he suddenly reveals at the end of Act I, Dave may not be as innocent as he seems.
Due to Dave and Sonia’s unreliable accounts of what exactly happened on that night in 1979, the audience was left guessing about the actual circumstances surrounding Bobby’s murder until the dramatic final scene revealed the shocking truth. This mix between history lesson and murder mystery incorporated a fascinating plot, skilled actors, and smart production decisions to make “The Honey Trap” a truly thrilling theatrical experience.
“The Honey Trap” is at the Boston Playwright’s Theater Feb. 16-26.
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