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''Stuff Happens'' play sears Rumsfeld in New York

Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, Apr 15 (Reuters) A play that skewers US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as arrogant and war-mad has opened to a largely favorable welcome in New York this week, even as former generals turn against him in Washington.

In ''Stuff Happens,'' by British playwright David Hare, Rumsfeld is described as a ''velociraptor'' and at one point his character says ''I could eat a baby through the bars of a crib.'' The growing number of retired US generals who have called for his ouster has not gone that far describing Rumsfeld, but the arrogance and failure to heed military advisers that they accuse him of are given dramatic life in Hare's play.

The play casts Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney as driving US President George W. Bush in a rush to war in Iraq, and portrays former Secretary of State Colin Powell as clashing with the others over the need for war.

''The play superbly captures the decision making, manipulations and miscalculations that have by now been thoroughly documented,'' the New York Post said in its review of the play. '''Stuff Happens' is a riveting piece of theater that well justifies the playwright's description of it as a 'history play,''' in the Shakespearean tradition.

First produced in London in 2004, ''Stuff Happens'' takes its title from Rumsfeld's quip dismissing the looting after US troops entered Baghdad. Drawing on recorded quotes from Bush and his closest aides, the play recreates the build-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, including many closed-door scenes that Hare imagined entirely.

In contrast to Post and the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal panned ''Stuff Happens.'' As a documentary, it said, the play was ''a flop, full of coarse caricatures and stiff with smugness,'' that stroked the preconceptions of an audience that ''sniggered from start to finish.'' The play has been updated since its first production, to focus more on Powell and his clashes with Rumsfeld and Cheney, who between them lay out the arguments promoted by neoconservatives who pressed for the Iraq invasion.

Bush comes over as an opaque figure but one who is the ultimate decision-maker, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair is portrayed as an idealist.

The New York Times in its review said an alternative title for the play could be ''The Tragedy of Colin Powell.'' ''He is Brutus in 'Julius Caesar,' an honorable man forced to run a race he no longer believes in,'' the paper said.

It is for pushing the war and ignoring the advice of his top generals that the 73-year-old Rumsfeld has come under fire in recent weeks from a small but influential group of retired generals who have called openly for his resignation.

Bush has stuck by Rumsfeld even as criticism over the war has helped drive the president's approval ratings to new lows. Bush issued a statement on Friday expressing his full support for the defense secretary.

REUTERS OM RAI0934

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