Thursday, March 5, 2009

Calgary drama

One of the highlights of my visit to Calgary last week was seeing the highly laureled Canadian playwright Judith Thompson’s Palace of The End. This play was put on in New York last year and won a prominent award, and has also been prominently staged in Toronto, but, as so often, I had missed it until steered ot it by the need to find something to do in Calgary on a Saturday night. The play consists of three monologues by individuals relating to the Iraq War and its backstory—Lynndie England; David Kelly, and a woman based on a real-life individual who se family was an early victim of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. What struck me, aside from the intense, mesmerizing, yet necessarily disturbing performances, is how simultaneously passionate and nonjudgmental the playwright’s implied view of her subjects is. England’s affectlessness and narcissistic sadism, Kelly’s tormented, guilty indecisiveness (brilliantly acted by Stephen Hair, a well-known Calgary performer who was really superb), and the Iraqi woman’s bewildered rage at the cruelty of those who vie for power are highly articulated in discursive terms yet are given from within; subjectivity does not detract from adequacy to the material. For this reason, I think this play will well outlast its immediate circumstances, and may well be a principal lens through which we look back at Iraq and its reverberations thirty years from now. I particularly appreciated the way England was looked down on not because she was uneducated and from an often dismissed part of the country, but because she participated in unconscionably cruel acts. The journalist Tara McKelvey, who interviewed England, gave a talk at my university recently, and made a similar point; that cruelty can come from people in all walks and from all stations of life, and, as Thompson shows, in this context, from both Iraqis and Americans.

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