Ben Randle


SF Examiner Feature: "Don't Ask' Examines Denial"

by Greg Archer

Playwright Bill Quigley turned heads and generated deep conversation after the debut of “Don’t Ask” took the New York Fringe Festival by storm back in 2006. Expect it to do the same when it makes its West Coast premiere in The City next week at the New Conservatory Theatre Center.

Quigley’s tale is sublime, yes, but it’s also a masterful psychological study on how human beings in the modern age sport a need to not be told the truth about the things we claim we want to know the truth about.

“I am intrigued about our need for denial,” Quigley says of the work.

The play is set during the Iraq War, where the worlds of two officers collide after they engage in a reckless affair.

The adult story, directed by Ben Randle, is a thought-provoking outing, wandering from “perilous” to “brutal” — but it’s more than just a sexually charged tale of woe.

“It’s a fictionalized take on the prisoner abuse scandal,” Quigley says. “I was intrigued by that. People can agree or disagree about this Iraq conflict we got into, but I don’t think anybody would disagree that prisoner abuse was a mockery of the sacrifice [of going to war].”

Themes of power, drama, ambition and exploration are also illuminated here but, Quigley adds, “beyond the surface level, it’s about the corruption of the don’t ask-don’t tell policy — how it hurts our gay servicemen and women, and how it hurts national security.”

Adrian Anchondo and Ryan Hough headline the show, which makes its essential points through the personal interactions of its characters, but one scene, in particular, seems to get to the root of play’s deeper nuances.

“We reach a point in the play where one man wants reassurance from the other man regarding the integrity of his character, but when this reassurance is not forthcoming, he desperately hammers away at the questions that he really doesn’t want honest answers to,” Quigley says. “And the other man is like, ‘Well, if you don’t want to know, don’t ask.’

“I think it’s human nature to, at times, willfully shield ourselves from information that we don’t like, to cover our ears,” he adds. “We all, at one point or another, have asked to be lied to, either directly or indirectly. And this part of the psyche has always intrigued me.”