Thursday, May 14, 2009

supernova part 2: it's war

the second week of eastern front's supernova festival opened last night, turning its stage to a warzone with julia mackey's beautiful jake's gift and charles mancini's limited out of frame.

jake is a ww2 canadian vet returning to normandy for the first time in 60 years. he encounters a precocious 10-year-old french girl, isabelle, and most of the play is a two-hander between them - except their's only one pair of hands on stage. mackey plays old man and young girl, along with a few others, in a mesmerizing performance. with jaw-dropping command over her body, she flicks between the two characters at conversational speed as the girl probes the man about the war, life since, and what exactly happened to his brother.

the story is good and the writing great, but it's the tour-de-force acting that makes jake's gift worth a trip to neptune's studio theatre. mackay - who wrote the play after visiting normandy for the 60th anniversary - makes the empty stage feel full. it's hard to believe it's a one-woman play.

meanwhile, just when you thought a bushian view of the world was dead, out of frame opens fire. it tells the verbatim true story of a US photojournalist called warren zinn, who shot that famous pic of an american soldier cradling an iraqi boy.

zinn is a disgusting, ignorant, arrogant tool and the one-man, verbatim style of the play doesn't challenge him once. he took the pic that made him and dwyer (and that photogenic iraqi kid) famous in march 2003. it made the front of a bunch of papers and magazines and, as mancini keeps reminding us, symbolized what the war was about.



"I knew this was a moment that the world needed to see -- a moment of American heroism, of American commitment to saving a people and to saving lives," the idiotic photographer told the washington post.

saving kids? the US had just dropped a bomb on ali. that's why he was injured. because 'liberating' american troops had nearly killed him and his mother. his uncle ran him out of the village, which is when dwyer got hold of him. he held him for a bit before a red crescent ambulance carted him off. zinn calls that - the ambulance rescue - 'the worst thing that ever happened to ali'. right: clearly worse than the US bombing the four-year-old.

as a journalist myself, i wanted to stand up and cut off his self-serving, propaganda-spewing monologue. zinn gets cross with ali's family when he visits them with a cnn crew. they insist on being unimpressed with the photo, seeing it as 'a snapshot of a really bad day in their life' and not appreciating the bigger picture.

no, i'm pretty sure that is the big picture.

a couple of years later, the solider goes bonkers, barricades himself in his US apartment and starts firing. he winds up dead. looking back, zinn imagines he can see the inner demons in dwyer even then. he also imagines the look of terror on ali's face is the result of inner demons. not, say, the insane US soldiers trying to kill him and then save him.

the stage of this play is iraq, but iraqis are bit players in their own country. zinn tells us his favourite picture - the one that shows 'what war is' - is a sad US soldier in a baltimore airport, saying goodbye to his family. so that's the pain of war, as far as this dimwit can tell. not the 100,000 or so iraqis liberated from their bodies, but a glum trooper in a clean airport.

it's a shame, because the photo is a great story. when it came out in 2003, it was seen as a symbol of 'what america was trying to accomplish.' it revealed itself as a photograph of what many would say america did accomplish: carnage, fear, anger, stupid-headed destruction.

ali would be about 14 now - not much older than the girl in jake's gift. somehow, i doubt that in 60 years he'll be thanking visiting US troops for briefly 'saving' him from themselves.


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