Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

4,380 Nights
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Wolves and The Trial

Ahmad Kamal and Lynette Rathnam
Photo by C Stanley Photography
The history of western colonization in Africa and Asia, and the conflicting identities of natives in colonized lands, is dramatic, but playwright Annalisa Dias is trying to do too much at once in 4,380 Nights. Despite moments of poetry and striking beauty, the play now in the ARK Theatre at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is too complex to follow easily as it shifts among times and places.

Malik Essaid (Ahmad Kamal), a French citizen of Algerian parentage, is an internee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a suspected terrorist. He has spent 12 years—4,380 days—during which he meets with a sympathetic lawyer (Michael John Casey) and tries to get through to a vicious Army guard (Rex Daugherty), but the days just keep passing and nothing changes.

That's the primary story, but Dias interweaves it with two others that look back in history. In one, a possibly allegorical woman (Lynette Rathnam) stands in for Scheherazade, spinning stories of Algeria to an unnamed man (Casey) and recounting her dreams of the dead returning to Algiers. The other, set during the French conquest of Algeria in the mid-19th century, pits a French officer (Daugherty) against a Berber (Kamal) who has allied himself with the French against his tribesmen and may also be Essaid's ancestor.

Kamal holds the audience's attention, specifically in his contemporary scenes, and the other actors follow ably. Director Kathleen Akerley does her best to keep things moving forward as characters talk about a Berber king who assisted the ancient Roman army in Carthage but was not eligible to become a Roman citizen, a deliberate slaughter of Algerians by the French, and a discourse on the Book of Job. The script also includes a few passing references to the U.S.' support of anti-Soviet Afghan fighters who later formed Al Qaeda, and to Tom Brady.

The focus of Elizabeth Jenkins' scenic design is on a curtain of chains in front of a backdrop of tropical mountains and sky, a concrete view of Dias' metaphoric invisible chains that restrain people's hearts. John Burkland's lighting design incorporates both the institutional harshness of a military prison and the shimmering heat of Algeria and Cuba.

Signature Theatre
4,380 Nights
January 16th - February 18th, 2018
By Annalisa Dias
The Woman: Lynette Rathnam
Malik Essaid: Ahmad Kamal
Bud Abramson: Michael John Casey
Luke Harrison: Rex Daugherty
Colonel Aimable Pelissier: Rex Daugherty
El Hadj El Kaim: Ahmad Kamal
The Man: Michael John Casey
Directed by Kathleen Akerley
ARK Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or