“You’re a traitor to me.” Everything about Roan @ the Gates, the magnificent show by playwright Christina Telesca Gorman, directed by Lexi Saunders, hangs on the way Nat (Jasmine Bracey) chooses to inflect that line.
Nat speaks it to Roan (Brenda Barrie), a dissident NSA whistleblower and Nat’s wife. Much like Edward Snowden, Roan makes a series of revelations about American intelligence so damning that she has to secure emergency asylum in Russia. Nat, marooned stateside, communicating with Roan over glitchy encrypted video calls, could be saying: “You’re a traitor to me—just like the news, the feds, and everybody else says you are.”
But she isn’t saying it like that. Nat, a public interest lawyer, believes in Roan’s cause and wants nothing more than to help out. Her love is clumsy, all-assertive. Bracey crafts her role into a many-sided study in what intimacy means: she’s a believer in touch, in deep private understanding between souls. She knows, for instance, that Roan only cries to one song (“The Star-Spangled Banner”). But Roan’s selfless patriotism—her “grand gesture,” as Nat puts it—comes at the cost of shutting Nat out completely. Having never agreed to be anyone’s sacrifice to the public good, Nat stakes everything on her refusal to let Roan’s heroism drown out her hurt. “You’re a traitor,” she announces, fully aware of how self-righteous it sounds, “to me.”
This American Blues Theater production thrives in that hopelessly messy space between public and private responsibility, and should be seen by anyone who’s ever been trapped there, as we all have. v