Shame, fear and terrorism in 'The English Bride'

Playwright Lucile Lichtblau achieves the seemingly impossible in “The English Bride,” now in its West Coast premiere at the Road on Magnolia: She makes a Middle Eastern terrorist sympathetic -- almost.

To accomplish this, however, she must twist both characters and plot into Escher-like configurations, undecipherable patterns that blur her intended message.

Set in 1990s London, the play is a fictionalized recapitulation of an actual event -- the attempted bombing of an El Al plane in 1986. In that incident, a pregnant and entirely unwitting Irishwoman was found with a suitcase bomb planted by her Middle Eastern fiancé, while she was supposedly en route to their wedding.

In “Bride,” the unwitting young victim, Eileen (Elizabeth Knowelden), is English, but like her real-life counterpart, she is also pregnant and seemingly unaware of her fiancé Ali’s (Steven Schub) deadly agenda.

Dov (Allan Wasserman) is the Israeli agent who sorts through Eileen and Ali’s evasions as the action segues between his interrogations and the couple’s past relationship.

Ali is motivated, not by ideological fanaticism, but by the fear of how his conservative parents will react to a pregnant British bride. Eileen’s motivations are also shame-based. She simply wants to prove to her termagant mother that she is worthy of love.

In a well-paced staging, director Marya Mazor boldly addresses the vagaries of her material. Kaitlyn Pietras’ striking projection design ably delineates the shifting milieus, as does Pablo Santiago’s lighting and John Zalewski’s sound.

Schub and Wasserman are well-matched antagonists, but the standout among the cast is the marvelous Knowelden, whose Eileen is as amusing as she is appallingly oblivious.

As for the play, Lichtblau deliberately poses more questions than she answers, concluding with a strikingly cynical and relativistic “message” that skirts an important point: In matters of human evil, black is sometimes simply black.

"The English Bride,” the Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 26. $34. (818) 761-8838. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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