Saturday, January 5, 2013


Special to TorSun
05 JAN 2013
R: 3.5/5

Pictured: Lisa Berry, Sergio Di Zio, Ari Cohen

Playwright Hannah Moscovitch, one suspects, did not set out to write yet another entry in the massive War is Hell literary compendium — but that's what she has done in a new work titled THIS IS WAR, which had its world première Thursday in the Tarragon Extra Space.

But along the way, she manages to strike a few chords that resonate with a deeper truth — chords of human decency and compassion stretched to the breaking point as soldiers struggle to do right in a world painted almost exclusively in various shades of wrong.

Set in Canada, THIS IS WAR is a memory play, with four Canadian soldiers recalling a particularly tragic mission in Afghanistan in which they seemingly stood by while the Afghan army inflicted atrocities on the enemy. But as each of them recalls that mission, Moscovitch makes it abundantly clear that this entire war, like all war, is little more than a series of atrocities and that the seat of justice is a hot seat indeed. In a series of flashbacks to events that led up to the mission, she sculpts a series of complex human relationships, carved of necessity by the erosion of simple humanity in the face of horror and deprivation.

When it comes to war, Captain Hughes (played by Ari Cohen) and Corporal Young (Lisa Berry) are seasoned veterans, and, as such, they are both touched and amused by the naiveté of young Private Henderson (Ian Lake), fresh from high school in Red Deer and ill-prepared for the horrors Afghanistan throws at him, almost from the get-go.

But as they face the rigours of the next day's mission, pre-battle tensions are suddenly ignited by the long-smouldering sparks of human sexuality and the ensuing explosion leaves them all unprepared to cope with the tragedies they must face, despite the ministration of Sergeant Anders (Sergio Di Zio), a good-hearted medic doing his level best to keep things on an even keel.

On the plus side, director Richard Rose gives us four finely-hewn and commanding performances, although finally one wishes he'd reined the otherwise superb Cohen in for his final scenes, instead of allowing him to fly so high that his audience simply abandons him.

Sadly that's not the only problem. While, at least to the untutored eye, Camellia Koo's costumes fairly drip military veracity, her set — a intricate cocoon of desert camouflage — is heavy-handed and ultimately obtrusive. Meanwhile, as Moscovitch weaves her elaborate tapestry of time and place, a few of the events —  a scene involving Henderson's problems with inmate sweat, for instance —  simply don't ring particularly true, apparently existing only for comic relief. 

And worst of all, the recollection of each event described in the play is evoked by the unheard but apparently probing and insightful questions of an invisible but obviously omnipotent journalist, wielding an authority more appropriate to the presiding officer in a court martial. This may indeed be war, but, even in hell, could all four of these soldiers finally be so naive as to not simply tell their unseen interrogator to bugger off?

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