Newcomers to the DC theater scene are in the throes of getting pummeled, transported, assaulted, moved, sickened, challenged, inspired, and just plain moved by the dyad of war plays theatricalizing the experience of soldiers (both American and British) during the Iraq war. Last week, we took in BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO at Round House Theater. Last night we saw BLACK WATCH, the harrowing, all-immersing spectacle produced by The National Theatre of Scotland at The Shakespeare Company’s Harmon Hall.
These two ensemble-driven shows, using vastly different theatrical techniques, once again make me so proud and excited to be incubating the hugely explosive and devastating ensemble piece, OUR CLASS, which we’re rehearsing at the J, and writing about elsewhere on this blog. Again, we’re witnessing the run up to war, the enactment of horrific brutality, and the wrenching aspects of Aftermath — in each case, the profoundly unsettling portraits of post-traumatic stress disorder. TIGER, BLACK WATCH, and OUR CLASS are offering case studies in the different ways enactors of war are haunted by their deeeds. In the case of the American and British/Scot forces who comprise a part of “The Coalition of the Willing,” we’re seeing soldiers carrying out orders with an unclear sense of what exactly they’re setting out to accomplish. In the case of OUR CLASS, well, you’ll soon see what motivates ordinary Polish citizens to take the fate of their fellow Jews into their own hands. In either case, it’s deeply unsettling.
There are certainly theater-goers who are being rubbed the wrong way by the brutal portraits we’re seeing. Some are finding the portraiture of American servicemen to be disrespectful. We’ve been reading, of course, about the language. Let’s begin an even more honest discussion and debate right now about what we’re seeing, and our honest, gut reactions to the portraits. And then let’s also consider the general value, function, and artfulness of the theater that’s bringing us the essentialized portraits of war so vividly.
Comment away, one and all!