Growing up, Andrea Tonsfeldt had a father who couldn't talk about what he did all day. He worked in military intelligence, leaving his day-to-day efforts a mystery.
The actor and founding artistic director of Mission Theatre Company has been able to get inside that experience in Detainee, where she plays a government interrogator in charge of a domestic terrorism suspect. The drama opens this weekend at the newly renovated Phoenix Theatre in Uptown.
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This is the second time Mission has worked with playwright Sam Graber. Last year, they produced Modern Prophet, a look at faith and fracking. This time around, the subject is domestic terrorism, interrogation, and the intersection between security and freedom.
"We wanted to have this conversation without being preachy and without stuffing it down people's throats," Tonsfeldt says.
Tonsfeldt plays Lindsey, a college professor with a husband, teenage daughter, and a secret history as a government interrogator. A bombing at a school brings her back in from the cold to work out if the suspect is connected to this incident of domestic terrorism -- and if there is more to come.
"What appealed to me about the concept is how does this person deal with lying to their family and everybody they know about their job and what they're doing, and at the same time seek the truth?" Tonsfeldt says.
"We think of the C.I.A. agent on 24 or Homeland, but here we get to see an individual go home at night, make dinner, have a husband and a family," Tonsfeldt says. "Sam writes really great characters. He said to the director that this isn't a play bout terrorism and torture. It's about a mother and a daughter."
On the research side, Tonsfeldt did chat with her father about his work, along with reading over job descriptions on the C.I.A. websites and reading several intelligence-related memoirs.
"[For the interrogator], you want to have the sense of where [the detainee] is better than where they could be," Tonsfeldt says.
As important was finding the character's relationship with her daughter. "I talked to people who have children about all those awkward moments when you are trying to get the person to interact with you. I did some mentoring with a 13-year-old a while ago, and trying to draw out that dialogue is not easy with a teenager," she says.
All of this should serve the play and the experience. "[The audience] should have a dialogue outside of the space. Some of the laws we touch on are actual laws that are in place in our society. To what lengths will our country and we as individuals go to feel safe?"
IF YOU GO: Detainee Previews Thursday, opens Friday through November 15 Phoenix Theatre, 2605 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis $10-$30 For tickets and more information, call 612.234.7168 or visit online.