Ingrid Betancourt was a Colombian Senator who was kidnapped by FARC rebels while she was running for President in 2002. She was held hostage in the jungle for six-and-a-half years. Catherine Filloux has written a play based on Ms. Betancourt’s experience, Kidnap Road, which was recently presented by La MaMa.
The handsome set, by Justin Townsend, consists of a cube of violent white representing Ms. Betancourt’s prison. It has perforations in it, and it’s surrounded by long sticks representing the forest. There’s a swing downstage, suspended from the ceiling.
There are two performers in this production. Ms. Betancourt is played by Kimber Riddle. Marco Antonio Rodriguez plays a number of characters, including another hostage, a FARC guard, Ms. Betancourt’s father, and God.
Ms. Betancourt speaks with the other characters as the play moves around in time and location. In the most interesting dialogue, she talks with God, Whom Mr. Rodriguez sometimes plays while swinging on the swing. He’s as real to her – and to us – as is her fellow hostage or the FARC guard, as if her imprisonment has led her to hallucinate.
Some scenes take place prior to her kidnapping. The opening line is “Here is a condom! If you vote for me, you are wearing a condom against corruption!” It’s spoken when she addressing a crowd as Presidential candidate. And there are scenes when she talks with her father. “There is nothing more dangerous than a feminine feminist,” he tells her, although his reasoning on this point is not clear.
Sometimes she talks to herself, sometimes speaking poetry. And there are intriguing lines like “God is an existentialist,” and “The problem is there are no secrets from God and God says different things on different days.”
In one of the show’s best moments, the guerillas film her. She sits silently and eloquently, with her head down. Then she says “Here, now, God, in front of the commander’s camera, I call on you.”
In other scenes, she speaks with a fellow hostage who was also a Colombian Senator. She speaks in English; he speaks in Spanish. The device isn’t jarring, oddly, and it works well.
Under the direction of Elena Araoz, the play moves along without ever dwelling too heavily on the moment. Her direction is skillful, but most scenes lack dramatic tension because there’s so little in the script.
Ms. Riddle’s performance is technically focused and well analyzed. But she never expresses the experience of imprisonment. Indeed, she looks absurdly pretty and fresh throughout her horrendous experience. She registers desperation three times, when she hears helicopters. Mr. Rodriguez, likewise, gives a solid performance, but he doesn’t differentiate his characters adequately.
The dialogue is compelling, but Catherine Filloux hasn’t dramatized the incidents of Ms. Betancourt’s story; she only relates the events. And she doesn’t convey the horror of imprisonment. Instead, she focuses on the hostage’s internal life.
Making God a character in Ms. Betancourt’s life is an inspired idea on the part of Ms. Filloux. Indeed, the ex-Senator is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. However, Ms. Filloux seems to tell us that Ms. Betancourt attended Oxford before being kidnapped. This is unclear. But Kidnap Road is absorbing, even if it doesn’t have a great deal to say.