Los Angeles Theater Review: UNBOUND (IAMA Theater Company at the Hudson Theatre)

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by Paul Birchall on November 2, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


It takes talent to juggle political activism, sexual tension, and a highly suspenseful thriller plot, but playwright D.G. Watson has done it. His compelling drama hits an almost astonishing number of dynamic points with a deceptive ease that belies nuances of philosophy and morality. Unbound charts how idealism quickly rots into corruption–and how cynicism can easily morph into something more darkly cruel.


The play, set a couple of ago, opens with a young couple waking up in a Vegas hotel room, after what is clearly a night of debauchery. Kate (Laila Ayad), the rebellious daughter of US Senator and Republican presidential candidate Dana (Gates McFadden), has been sowing her idealistic oats by living with the Occupy L.A. movement in Downtown L.A.  The guy she’s with, though, turns out to be young firebrand Michael (Chris Gardner) acolyte and protégé of renowned 60s Black Panther activist Ellis (Ellis E. Williams).

ellis-e-williams-and-gates-mcfadden-star-in-the-iama-theatre-companys-unbound-photo-by-dean-cechvalaAs Kate and Michael sober up, they gradually recall that they met in L.A., hit it up, got super-drunk, and fled to Vegas to make a sex video, which they hoped (since it featured a Black Panther and the daughter of a Republican senator) would disgrace Dana on the eve of her Presidential campaign. When they discover that the tape they made while drunk is not usable, they decide to re-make the scene–but their mutual seduction awakens dark truths that lead to tragedy.

Act II essentially takes the form of a different play, with Dana and Ellis meeting up together a short time after the events in act one, ostensibly to “clean up” the mess their youngers have made. The two are old enemies: Not only does it turn out that Dana was an informant in Ellis’s Panther cell some years ago, her testimony got him locked up for 30 years. However, when Dana, who is poised to become the most powerful person in the world, makes Ellis an offer that will inevitably compromise everything he believes, he’s tempted by the power she can give him.

Watson skillfully utilizes political activism as a backdrop for the story, rather than impose the story on the politics, which makes for a remarkably fresh tone. The plot contains hints of conspiracies and twists that may or may not be real, but in Jennifer Chambers’ taut, tightly wound staging, you truly have no idea what’s going to laila-ayad-and-chris-gardner-star-in-the-iama-theatre-companys-unbound-photo-by-dean-cechvalahappen next. It’s true, a few of the plot developments border on the contrived, but the intensity of the performances, with the ease of how characters shift from anger to sadness to desire, and then back to anger again, makes for an unexpectedly disturbing experience.

Performances are artful and complex. The two young lovers, played by Ayad and Gardner, have great chemistry together; it’s engaging how their personalities evolve from strangers having a sex date, to political cronies, to something deeper, and then something scarier. As for McFadden’s marvelously brittle turn as the chillingly evil Dana, it’s a powerful, wonderful turn, as is Williams’ vicious but strangely honorable Ellis.

photos by Dean Cechvala

IAMA Theater Company
Hudson Backstage Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood
Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 7
ends on November 27, 2016
for tickets, visit IAMA

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