Playwright: Selina Fillinger. At: Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Tickets: 847-673-6300 or Northlight.org; $30-$81. Runs through: March 4
Selina Fillinger's world-premiere courtroom drama Faceless for Northlight Theatre was clearly meant to be up-to-the-minute current when it was first commissioned. But now that Faceless has opened with the erratic and right-leaning Trump administration in power, Fillinger may have to add in some snippets of dialogue to either acknowledge that fact or find a way to re-set the action back to President Barack Obama's administration.
Like it or not, knowing which political party is in control will likely affect how audiences view the play's characters and their motivations. But otherwise Fillinger's timely premise for Faceless is intriguing, though perhaps a tad too neatly built for oppositional and juicy conflict.
Faceless largely focuses on the U.S. Muslim lawyer Claire Fathi ( Susaan Jamshidi ). She's brought aboard by the cocky and insensitive prosecutor Scott Bader ( Timothy Edward Kane ) to aid the U.S. government's terrorism trial against an 18-year-old white Chicago-area teenager named Susie Glenn ( Lindsay Stock ) who pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
Bereft from her mother's recent death, Susie found solace with an unseen Islamic State recruiter via social media and now identifies as Muslim. So now Susie's paramedic father, Alan ( Joe Dempsey ), and her Jewish defense lawyer, Mark Arenberg ( Ross Lehman ), have to argue that she was led astray. Yet Susie insists that she is secure in her newfound beliefs that she disturbingly conflates with the terrorist organization.
With Faceless, Fillinger dexterously plays with hard-hitting questions of personal and public loyalties to one's faith, family or country. These challenges certainly give director BJ Jones' extremely skilled ensemble lots to explore, and they all juggle the moments of drama and comedy with plenty of aplomb.
It's particularly refreshing to have Jamshidi portraying such a powerful Muslim woman who rises to the challenges of becoming a public face of such a contentious trial. Stock, too, stands out as a lost young woman who clings to her new and emboldened identity. Also giving a great dramatic turn is Dempsey, easily conveying the hurt and anger of a widower whose parental skills are so harshly judged.
But despite many intriguing arguments and situations, Faceless does feel constrained in its taught 90-minute running time. Fillinger brings up so many topics and ideas that some only feel cursorily explored when they could be further elaborated upon.
And now that Trump is in the White House, all the characters and their actions are all inevitably clouded by the country's drastic political shift. Fillinger will likely need to make revisions for any future productions of Faceless.