Palace of the End

From 09/25/2009 to 10/18/2009


Composed of three monologues, based on factual people and events, whose characters and words are imagined by the playwright. The first was inspired by the media circus around Lynndie England, the Army private who was convicted of torturing Iraqi prisoners; the second was inspired by the well-publicized events surrounding the death of the British weapons inspector David Kelley; the final piece was inspired by the true story of Nehrjas al Saffarh, a well-known member of the Communist party of Iraq and a mother of four, who was tortured by Saddam Hussein’s secret police in the 1970s and died when her home was bombed by the Americans in the first Gulf war.


The reviews are in.

“The scope of the Iraq War is so broad and complex that it seems impossible that any play could pull it into an overarching perspective. But Canadian playwright Judith Thompson has performed such a miracle with “Palace of the End,” which had its spellbinding area premiere by Frank Theatre Friday in Minneapolis. Emily Zimmer beguiles and repulses in a spitfire performance. Regrettably, Thompson says too little of the culpability of higher-ups in charge of Abu Ghraib. Frank regular Patrick Bailey, in what is perhaps his best performance yet, emanates a visceral sense of paranoia as Kelly, a British weapons inspector in Iraq. … Kelly’s 2003 death, officially deemed a suicide, became a British scandal. “Palace of the End” refers to a facility where Saddam Hussein’s thugs conducted torture. Al Saffarh, whose husband led Iraq’s communist party before the first Gulf War, is a character who adds recent historical resonance to the piece and its most horrific sequence. A sublime Taous Claire Khazem is understated yet riveting as she sits in her un-air-conditioned home and tells of being raped in front of her sons, who also were brutalized. Director Wendy Knox has guided three shattering performances across Thompson’s vast emotional terrain. Paradoxically, the effect is epic despite the intimate Ivy space. John Bueche’s set, Mike Kittel’s lighting and Kathy Kohl’s costumes clearly and simply match each character’s situation. Michael Croswell’s sound design evokes a fitting sense of menace.”  –John Townsend, StarTribune

“The cast puts in top-notch work. Emily Zimmer gives humanity to England, who could easily come off as just a monster. Patrick Bailey?s Kelley is static throughout his piece but creates a full, complex world with just his voice and face. Then in the performance of the night, Taous Khazem never wavers in her description of the horrors visited upon al Saffarh and her family at the hands of their leader?s torturers.It’s a heavy-duty evening, but there are also signs of humanity as well, in Kelley?s love of his daughter, and especially in al Saffarh?s final vision of her homeland and all of the dead souls from decades of strife finally at peace.” –Ed Huyck,

“(Emily) Zimmer strikes a proper balance between her character’s vile behavior (and her lame self- justifications for it), and deeper dimensions that lend her shades of sympathy. …Patrick Bailey then tackles the role of David Kelly, the British weapons inspector who eventually revealed that he had been asked to cook the books on Iraq’s WMD threat, then followed up on his whistle-blowing by apparently killing himself. Bailey’s Kelly is appropriately reserved and wistful as he endures the final night of his life, staring into oblivion …Perhaps Kelly’s most chilling line is his agony over the conflict entailed in “knowing and pretending you don’t.” Bailey delivers it with a tight fatigue.

“The final monologue is delivered by Taous Claire Khazem, next to a simple chair-and-table and tea setup. In the first two scenes we have had mention of things difficult, if not outright painful, to bear. Now we hear too much.

“Yet of course we must listen: This woman’s plight, based on that of a real Iraqi woman, bears the shadow of every wrong perpetrated in her country. … Khazem’s character tells the story of being arrested as a member of the Communist Party during Saddam’s reign …What follows is an unforgettable, terrible story, the details of which are hard to shake. Khazem glides through the horror with precision and dignity, leaving us with the information that this tortured and permanently damaged woman met her ultimate demise from American bombs in the first Gulf War.

“Director Wendy Knox’s small-scale staging focuses on text and texture; here they both lead to disturbing conclusions. This is who we are, the work tells us. It is not all we are, but these acts and this history are ours: as a people, as a species. There are times when small graces are no consolation at all.” –Quinton Skinner, City Pages