Sunday, March 28, 2004

Yesterday, Patty and I, along with son Chip, and friends Bill and Susan attended the new Tim Robbins play, Embedded. As the title suggests, it portrays the activities of the journalists "embedded" with the US forces in the Iraq war. Since I'm not a theater critic, let this be a report of what we saw.

The play will not win any souls to the anti-war cause, but may alert some to how news is managed. It is preaching to the converted.

Embedded features an ensemble cast, with each cast member playing two or three roles. The scenes are set on a stage without curtains, with changes managed by lighting. There are four types of scene. The most memorable are six figures sitting in a triangle, with the Cheny figure sitting highest, with the corresponding Wolfowitz and Pearle below, and with (apparently?) Powell, Rice and Rumsfeld (Rum-Rum) seated in the lowest level. They never look at one another, just have
this dialogue with themselves and the audience on how they are going to manage public perceptions. A compelling
feature of this scene is the masks the players wear to both hide their identity, yet give emphasis to the expressions
made with their eyes and mouths.

This scene is interspersed with three other types of scenes reflecting the home front and/or split scenes with soldiers and loved ones reading each other's mail, scenes of the "front", and the journalists. The play traces events from just before the war (how do we justify it), it's early uncertainty on the road to Bagdahd, to just after victory was declared. (The playbill says Oct '02 - June '03). It includes vignettes with a soldier shooting and killing a whole family, the Jessica Lynch episode (ala Saving Private Ryan), and forcefully, the thrall that journalists were held in to "report" the news, "Never call them
US troops -- it's ``coalition forces''" A few reporters take the chance of questioning their work. One knows well how to work the system, and most sway to the rhythm of the military briefers.

The play is set against a backdrop with flashing stills and movie clips from WWII, ... where the presidential advisers are paying homage to Leo Strauss, (1899-1973) who the program identifies as "the celebrated philosopher-king of the neoconservatives, {who} was a classicist and philosophy professor at the University of Chicago where he taught the works of Plato, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and Hobbes."

From the Playbill notes on Strauss:

"Strauss believed that democracy, however flawed, was best defended by an ignorant public pumped up on nationalism and religion. Only a militantly nationalistic state could deter human aggression, and since most people were naturally self-absorbed and hedonistic, Strauss blieved that the only way to transform them was to make them love their nation enough to die for it. Such nationalism requires an external threat -- and if one cannot be found, it must be manufactured.

-- Kitty Clark"

Embedded is playing at The Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette
St, Manhattan.

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