By Naomi Wallace
Directed by Steven Fedoruk and Sarah Moeller
Produced by Eclipse Theatre Company
At the Greenhouse Theater Complex, Chicago
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud
It is easier said than done, commenting on this piece of theatre; which is not to say that there is any lack of things to talk about. Indeed, Naomi Wallace’s four vignettes invite a great deal of dialogue – which is precisely their purpose. They are conversations about the Middle East, both in-and-of-itself and the effects of American foreign policy on those nations we deem ourselves to be helpers of. The first two, “A State of Innocence” and “Between this Breath and You” focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the latter two, “the Retreating World” and “No Such Cold Thing,” on Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. They deal with their issues in complex, thought-provoking, fair, and difficult ways. They are mature and ask for discussion, delving into the depths of their implications and repercussions. None of them are point-blank, simple, blanketed statements. They are sympathetic to all parties involved, neither bearing ideology nor dogmatism.
“A State of Innocence” is about an Israeli soldier watching over an occupied zoo; he is visited by a Palestinian woman and an Israeli architect in charge of constructing settlements and reconstructing the ruins of war and time. It highlights the cruelty and humanity of both sides; the simple duty of a soldier, the responsibility of an architect employed by the government, the passion and remorse of a mother. It is at once arresting, inviting, and heartbreaking.
“Between this Breath and You” is the most difficult – for me – of the pieces. The spirituality of the piece is not overt, and so is harder to swallow; it does not blanket the piece, but rather only plays a particular and peculiar role. This vision is simultaneously the most grounded in reality and the most abstract. A Palestinian man whose son was killed by an Israeli soldier has found the recipient of his son’s lungs – or so he believes, fervently. The recipient is less sure. But still, they share this at least imagined connection. And there is an Arab Jew in the background, brilliant yet unable to pursue his passions and dreams; this itself is a statement Wallace wishes to make.
“The Retreating World” is a story of Iraq in the mid-90s. It is the story of sanctions and war and hope and hopelessness. It is a monologue, completely enrapturing. The words are all that is needed, for they are powerful enough to carry the world on their shoulder. The reality of how sanctions – meant to influence and harm those in power – affect the common people to horrible and tragic effect. It is a story of the realities and atrocities of war, not confined, no matter how much we wish they were, to Vietnam. It is a story of the adverse effects of beneficently-minded American foreign policy.
And “No Such Cold Thing” is the story of the early days of the Afghan war, told in unbearably human terms. A University of Indiana graduate; the hopes and dreams of women – no, girls – constricted by the Taliban; the horrible necessities of the soldier. The sound of the automatic rifle.
These are vital pieces that have vision and depth, and are interesting enough that, even when they fall short of what they hope to achieve, are worthy because they try. This is in direct contrast to the second act of Clybourne Park, a muddled and unsatisfactory affair that fell short because it did not face the issues it wished to directly, fearlessly. Wallace is unafraid, and so attempts to come to grips with her issues, threatening though they may be. She does not retreat, which is the great deficit of Clybourne Park. This is thought-provoking and affecting theatre that is worthy of viewing, irrespective of which side of the argument you may fall on – the it the argument of the Israel-Palestine issue, or the issue of the wars this country continues to wage in Iraq and Afghanistan. The pieces presented view these places unsympathetically, and yet all-too-humanly. And Eclipse delivers devastating blows, because they realize the potential vitality within the words written. They seek to bring the best from these pieces, and come close to achieving that. All of the actors are more than worthy; the sets are utter simplicity but all that is needed; the costumes also straightforward but effective; the lighting attempting to work with material that is not necessarily prone to complex design – and doing it well. I cannot think of a good reason to avoid this production.
Reviewed on 9.18.11
For full show information, visit TheatreinChicago.
At the Greenhouse Theatre Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL; call 773-404-7336 or visit www.eclipsetheatre.com; tickets $18-$28;Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2:30; running time is 2 hours with intermission, through October 30th.