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'Hostage' at the Skylight Theatre: a shattering slice of the Iranian crisis

'Hostage' at the Skylight Theatre: a shattering slice of the Iranian crisis
Zachary Grant portrays a Marine guard who is taken hostage when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is stormed in 1979, and Tracie Lockwood is his small-town mother who travels to Iran to secure his release. (Ed Krieger)

Michelle Kholos Brooks’ play “Hostage” at the Skylight Theatre revisits the Iranian hostage crisis almost 40 years after the fact.

Based on real-life characters, Brooks’ new drama is filtered through the intensely personal perspective of a mother intent upon freeing her son from captivity. Although Brooks arguably may shortchange the political complexities of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 to 1981, she captures the natural maternal imperative to protect family with emotionally shattering specificity.

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That impact is largely because of the tour-de-force performance of Tracie Lockwood. She plays Barbara Timm, the mother who traveled to Iran — just before a State Department travel ban took effect — to negotiate the release of her son, Kevin Hermening (Zachary Grant), a Marine guard for the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it is stormed by Iranian militants on Nov. 4, 1979.

A small-town mother of five, Barb has never been out of the country. She braves the long journey, along with Kevin’s stepdad, Kenny Timm (Jack Clinton), not knowing if she will find her son alive or dead. Shortly after their arrival, an attempted U.S. military rescue goes disastrously awry, putting the lives of all the hostages at risk, not to mention those of Barb and Kenny, who could easily have been executed in the blowback to the botched mission.

Tracie Lockwood, center, portrays the mother of an American being held in Iran in the play "Hostage," with Vaneh Assadourian, right; Satiar Pourvasei, left, and Zachary Grant.
Tracie Lockwood, center, portrays the mother of an American being held in Iran in the play "Hostage," with Vaneh Assadourian, right; Satiar Pourvasei, left, and Zachary Grant. (Ed Krieger)

Barb gets a crash course in a foreign culture through her son’s captors, who have endured their share of loss and pain under the shah’s brutal regime. Upon her return to the states, Barb is denounced as a traitor and suspected spy — opprobrium that worsens her terror and tension.

In director Elina de Santos’ fluid staging, the action seamlessly transitions from the Tehran embassy to the Timm home in Oak Creek, Wis. All the characters remain onstage at all times. That includes gun-wielding revolutionary Ebrahim (Satiar Pourvasei); Tehran Mary (Vaneh Assadourian), spokeswoman for the uprising; and Richard Hermening (Christopher Hoffman), Kevin’s father and Barb’s ex.

Pourvasei and Assadourian stand out as the Iranian revolutionaries, whose contempt for Barb’s initially jingoistic worldview develops into increasing respect for her motherly pluck. And though Brooks’ gripping play occasionally veers into the simplistic, Lockwood’s deceptively unassuming performance is a beacon of authenticity that lights the stage.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘Hostage’

Where: Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 8 p.m. Mondays; ends June 24

Tickets: $15 to $39.99

Information: (213) 761-7061 or (866) 811-4111, SkylightTix.com

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

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