Friday, May 6, 2011

"Black Watch" - a review

The question of authenticity is one that all war dramas must confront. Err too much in the name of entertainment, and war veterans of the military conflict in question will savage it to no end. (See: The Hurt Locker). Err too much on the side of the realistic though, and it may quickly lose any and all mass appeal. It's a delicate balance, one the Scottish play "Black Watch," written by Gregory Burke, tries very earnestly to find. It doesn't quite do so, as it's narrative arc is too clean and predictable, but that doesn't detract from the play's still very powerful presentation. Further, it's central message - that soldiers fight for the men next to them, rather than for glory or for country or for the politics - is something that will resonate with veterans of any generation.

The imagery and dialogue of "Black Watch" are peppered with modernity. From a visually stunning five minute scene where the narrator elucidates on the history of the infantry regiment - while switching in and out of the uniforms of every era - to a conversation that consists of the word "cunt" about 30 times in one minute, it's clear that Burke was paying close attention while interviewing actual Black Watch veterans in his research. The pride of military service is successfully conveyed, as is the ambiguity of the Iraq mission circa 2004. And the music, the bagpipes, especially, made the Scottish part of my soul glow while Saint Andrew's Cross danced on the walls. It was a wonderful experience, presented in a forum I'm not too familiar with, and it communicates a lot in a limited time. Judging by some of the students and civilians around me, it also served as an edifying tool for individuals not familiar with the military culture and/or not engaged with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

City Girl had tears in her eyes by the end of the play, so I feel like an overanalytical clown for saying "but" ... BUT. There's differences amongst the characters, but not much depth to them. No Iraqi appears on stage. The play purports to be apolitical, but some not so subtle digs at American foreign policy are still there. (Something that I'm sure plays well to audiences in the UK, and not arguments I necessarily disagree with, but if a work says it's apolitical, it needs to be apolitical. But I digress.) And then there's the issue of the story arc. It's just too ... clean. (*Warning: Spoiler alert!*) Soldiers go to war, soldiers bond, soldiers get bored, soldiers bond some more, soldiers watch others fight, soldiers fight, affable soldier and stoic sergeant die. That's a familiar refrain for war dramas, because it fits the traditional narrative arc, complete with tension buildup, climax, and resolution. But the real thing tends to be a lot messier than that, and fitting it into such a standard story line does a disservice to the nuance and complexities faced by the real Black Watch and other units. To be fair, this is a concern that's long been stuck in my craw, and "Black Watch" is certainly not the only play/film/novel to do this.

By and large, the reception to "Black Watch" in both military and civilian circles has been almost universally positive. I really enjoyed it, but I found it to be a flawed piece of art that falls a bit short of its own aspirations. That said, its importance and relevance to bridging the ever-vaunted mil-civ divide cannot be overstated. Highly recommended.

(Note: Complimentary tickets to the play "Black Watch" were provided to military veterans and guests on April 27 by St. Ann's Warehouse, a venue in Brooklyn.) 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"The Hut Next Door" - a piece for The New York Times

I wrote a ObL-reaction piece for The New York Times, entitled "The Hut Next Door." It was published this afternoon on their blog Home Fires. Check it out, if you can.

The Hut Next Door

Sunday, May 1, 2011

America. Fuck. Yeah.

Was going to write a play review tonight, but yeah, that's going to wait. Bin Laden. Is. Dead.

No words can ever capture the poignancy of a moment like this, but a sense of closure exists, certainly. And not just for military personnel, or veterans, or even America. It's not over, of course, but still. It's there. Some closure.

Even though I start a new job tomorrow with IAVA, City Girl and I just cracked open a couple brews, and are staying up for President Obama's speech. My sincere gratitude to all involved in getting the bastard.