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New despair underlies NY debut of anti-war play

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Apr 8 (Reuters) When David Hare's incisive political play on the decision to go to war in Iraq debuts in New York next week, the audience will be in the spotlight.

The Public Theater production of ''Stuff Happens'' is staged with the audience facing each other across a low platform. At times, the entire audience is illuminated while actors playing President George W Bush and his former secretary of state, Colin Powell, debate invading Iraq in 2003.

''We built it so the actors would be surrounded by the audience, so it would be more of a public forum,'' director Daniel Sullivan told Reuters in an interview. ''In our view, we are all implicated in some way in this story.'' ''Stuff Happens,'' a quote from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissing the looting after US troops entered Baghdad, details the Bush administration's shift to a political doctrine putting US power and security interests first.

Hare uses real quotes from Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice augmented with imagined exchanges between the leaders and their aides.

Much has changed since the anti-war play first won praise at London's Royal National Theatre in 2004. Now the insurgency against US and British troops is taking a heavier daily toll on civilians, and internal strife among Iraq's religious factions has raised fears the country will splinter.

Hare continues to revise the script before opening night on April 13 to reflect those changes, even adding a quip on Vice President Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of a hunting trip companion.

''There's a bit more hopelessness involved in the enterprise right now,'' Sullivan said. ''As we watch this story played out, there is despair at the center of it. Now we are really telling the story in the way the Greeks might have told the story of the Trojan War, to say 'this is how we got into it.''' In the play, Powell is cast as the public conscience, arguing for a careful tally of the costs of war and a close consultation with US allies be made before committing to war. How he argues and ultimately loses his case before Bush is at the center of the drama.

''The mistake would be to think that Bush is a stupid man or somehow not responsible for his own actions,'' said Sullivan. ''I believe he wraps himself in a 'good old boy, man of the people' mantle. He is a wily character and a sly character and I think ultimately makes his own decisions.'' As the show ran in previews in New York over the last week, Rice, who is now secretary of state, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made a trip to Baghdad to urge Iraqi leaders to unite and combat growing internal strife.

''That looks like some sort of prelude to the rather drawn out and bloody removal of troops,'' said Sullivan. ''Therein hangs a moral tale: A war that was wrongfully begun, do we have a moral obligation to see it to its end?'' ''Stuff Happens'' runs through May 28 at the Public Theater.


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