“Every Five Minutes,” written by Scottish playwright Linda McLean, is given an excellent, harrowing production by Washington Ensemble Theatre.
Mo is having a rough night.
In his best moments, he’s back home — after a 17-year ordeal of imprisonment and torture — with his wife, Sara, and his old friends Rachel and Ben. The four of them are supposed to be having a nice evening with glasses of wine and gentle chitchat to help Mo readjust to his pre-prison self.
In his worst moments, Mo is having hallucinatory flashbacks: Men in balaclavas kick in the front door and drag him away, then torture him with near-drowning, serial sleep deprivation and jumper cables connected to a car battery. Between his worst and best moments, Mo floats in a sea of distorted, before-prison memories: A chiding mother sporting beer-can curlers, or a romantic moment with Sara. While Mo lurches from one psychological moment to another, he strips naked in his living room, shouts, winces when anyone knocks on the door and laughs manically when his torturers (remembered in his mind as Bozo the Clown and Harpo Marx) charge into his fevered consciousness.
‘Every Five Minutes’
by Linda McLean. Through Jan 30. Washington Ensemble Theatre at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave, Seattle; $15-$25 (washingtonensemble.org).
Mo’s brain has been broken — but Sara, Rachel and Ben are trying to have a quiet get-together, hoping to mend their old friend’s mind.
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“Every Five Minutes,” written by Scottish playwright Linda McLean and given an excellently harrowing production by Washington Ensemble Theatre, is a series of scary double flips. It wrenches the audience between Mo’s present (a calm living room) and his past (almost two decades of torture by his own government under suspicion of some crime we never fully learn about). But it also is a thought experiment about what would happen to our neighbors and friends if they were sent to torture palaces like Abu Ghraib.
As Mo, actor Tim Gouran is an exquisitely unnerving study in mental breakdown. He keeps pleading — to his wife and to his hallucinated former captors — “what am I doing wrong?” with the earnestness of someone who knows he’s lost his mind but doesn’t know where to find it. James Weidman, as Ben, is almost aggressively calm in the midst of Mo’s chaos, while Jesica Avellone as Mo’s loving wife Sara oscillates between tender concern and censoriousness about Mo’s erratic behavior. As he keeps waking up from his delusions and asking what’s happened, she says: “I was apologizing for you.”
The whole production is an extremely well-performed, well-designed portrait of a mental mess, from Gouran’s leaps between mental states to bits of the set, designed by Ahren Buhmann, that pop out and crumble like Mo.
“Every Five Minutes” even comes with trigger warnings. A sign on the door the audience walks through reads: “Your children should not be here.” This is not a pleasant play, but it’s a necessary one — and it’s got the theatrical acumen and pyrotechnics to justify its underlying urgency.
As director Ryan Purcell writes in his program notes: “Our country has participated in ‘creative information solicitation’ for years, and just elected a man who vowed to expand the process to wives and children … We are in fearful times … Enjoy the show.”