Jan 29, 2010

Is Margulies Slamming Docu-Theatre?

Act Two of Donald Margulies' respectable but lukewarm new Time Stands Still opens with Brian D'Arcy James' character James, a war correspondent who's logged time in Iraq and Jordan, excoriating a play he and his war-photographer partner have just seen. He describes it as a series of monologues in which actors portray the misery and horror of the Iraq war's victims, and he deplores it as a culinary evening for cozy liberals to assuage their guilt. He and his shutterbug squeeze knew the real people over there, and how dare actors and theater artists presume to depict it for a sympathetic audience?

Even allowing for the fact that this character doesn't necessarily speak for Margulies--he later seems to resign himself to the view that he can no more affect the course of the war than those well-meaning theater audiences--this sounds uncomfortably like a takedown of Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank's Aftermath, though the timing of Margulies' writing (the play is more than a year old) would seem to indicate that he has a genre of Culture Project/Iraq-war plays in mind rather than any specific show. I wonder, though, what George Packer, who adapted his own anguished front-line reporting into the admirable hit Betrayed would say about this, or Lawrence Wright, who turned My Trip to Al-Qaeda into a sort of parlor piece (albeit minus any impersonators of the war's victims).

I'm glad that the Post's Elisabeth Vincentelli took note:
When James heatedly berates a well-meaning play they've just seen as caricaturing the Middle East to make an NPR-loving audience feel better about itself, you can't help but pan around the Friedman Theatre and gape at the cruel irony of it all.

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