“Heads” provides a harrowing and rich storyline of four hostages imprisoned by terrorists in Iraq. Written by E.M. Lewis and directed by Laura Savia, “Heads” exhibits powerful writing and direction that makes the audience feel the characters’ confinement. Savia succeeds in conveying the intimacy between not only the actors, but also the audience. Both actors and audience members are bound within gray, shabby walls of the theater — the audience endures the relentless monotony and the impending unease and anticipation of what the plot holds.
The strength in “Heads” is Lewis’s remarkable writing. Lewis’s ability to capture the characters’ essential nature in a short hour and a half allows the audience to understand and even care for each of them. She unravels the severities and raw truths of wartime, in spite of never showing violence or the enemies.
The actors succeed in bringing to life the depth and authenticity of Lewis’s characters. José Leon plays Jack Velazquez, a freelance photojournalist, trapped in a cell with network journalist, Michael Aprés (Michael Turner). Though their characters contrast in personality, their chemistry presents a fraternal bond and provides an amicable harmony in the grim quarters. Turner flawlessly illustrates the timorous quality and relentless morality of his character, Michael, who is newly exposed to warfare. Leon plays the tough-skinned, experienced Jack, who has been held hostage before. The dynamic between between a new hostage and a returning one is well executed — this is a relationship that is rarely explored in art.
In the adjacent cell are Caroline Conway, a British embassy official (Kim Martin-Cotton) and Harold Wolfe (David Dotterer), an American engineer who has been held hostage the longest. Harold possesses a taciturn, noble quality that remains constant despite his seventh months of solitary imprisonment. He establishes this stoic voice by adopting a non-pessimistic outlook of the situation. However, Dotterer, though dedicated, steady and likable, has a shyness that cannot fulfill the gravitas and subtle strength that his character exemplifies.
Although the show exhibited engaging performances, Martin-Cotten proved to be the standout actor, gliding through each altering emotion of her character with candor and passion. She provided both comedic relief and heartbreaking moments with her witty jokes and stirring soliloquies. Performing some of the show’s most somber scenes, Martin-Cotton stole the show. She solidified her capability of presenting the greatest evolution amongst all characters.
With a magnetic cast, excellent writing and equally terrific direction, “Heads” establishes itself as a hidden, off-Broadway gem. It reveals a perspective of wartime that is alien and unfathomable to us, yet captivates the audience in understanding what hostages in wartime endure.
“Heads” closed on Sept. 20 for the 2015 season.
A version of this article appeared in the Sept. 28 print edition. Email Kat Fadrilan at [email protected]