“Every Five Minutes” presented by Washington Ensemble Theatre

This production is disturbing and uncomfortable. It’s confusing and shocking, but it’s also unforgettable. Scottish playwright Linda McLean forces her audience to see just how torture impacts the individual subjected to it. Although her play doesn’t specifically call it “state supported” torture, you won’t be able to draw any other conclusion. And Director Ryan Purcell has made sure of that.

It begins with two couples enjoying a pleasant little dinner party. The party’s hardly begun when two thugs dressed in black break into the apartment and begin working over Mo, one of the men. The torture begins. Physical violence? Yes. Water immersion? Yes. Sleep deprivation? Yes.

We don’t know why Mo is being tortured or when. Is it that his memories of his ordeal are so real, the event might even be considered to be taking place all over again. Why is he subjected to this? Does he or did he have government secrets? Is he or was he a spy? Are we with him when the horrors are actually taking place or are we reliving with him the terrors and cruelties of the past? Is he insane or a political prisoner? Oh my God, is this what our country does to suspected terrorists or spies?

For 90 minutes the audience is caught in a whirlpool where reality and unreality collide. The torturers appear sometimes as clowns, at other times as vicious thugs. The interrogations are brutal. Loud noises fill the theatre. Lights flash on and off. And the dinner party goes on, a relatively quiet and oh so ordinary social evening.

The cast provides a powerful contrast between normal and horrific. Tim Gouran as Mo the tortured one becomes less and less alert as the time passes, one might say “less and less a fully functioning human being.” Nick Edwards and TrĂ© Calhoun bring evil and horror to their roles as the torturers.

This is not an easy play to watch, yet in some horrific way it’s mesmerizing. And there’s no question that the playwright has a message, and it’s one we all need to consider carefully, especially at a time when state sanctioned torture is being reconsidered..

Through January 30, at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, 206 325-5105 Washingtonensemble.org.

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