- Stuff Happens
- by David Hare
- Directed by Jeremy Skidmore
- Produced by Olney Theatre Center
- Reviewed by Ted Ying
Politics is the most exciting game in town. Or so says my friend, the political lobbyist. How else can he explain his choice of career, when he has worked in several more lucrative professions? Olney’s Stuff Happens makes me start to believe him. They say that history is written by the winners, but sometimes history is written by those who write well. Playwright David Hare chronicles the events starting in 2002 that led us into the Iraq War. He provides the political atmosphere before the war, the high-level background intrigue and political discussions in the White House, between the White House and Downing Street and in and around the U.N. He mixes in dialogue from reporters, members of the public and foreigners that comment on the outsider’s opinion of the U.S. Hare selectively takes events, news and details from the media, imagines supporting scenes and creates a very gripping play that provides one interpretation of the political game that destined the United States to participate in a war that has now gone on for over five years.
Hare definitely shows that he is a talented playwright. Under his talented pen, the story keeps the attention of the audience throughout the political machinations that cover a nearly three year period. It is indeed difficult for the casual audience member to determine which events were taken from the news and which ones came from Hare’s imagination.
Ordinarily such material might be rather dry, but Hare’s well-written script is supported by a talented cast of Helen Hayes Awards nominees and winners. Director Jeremy Skidmore says that he was not looking for a physical resemblance to the political figures, but for cast members who captured the character of the roles. He definitely succeeded with these smart casting choices. Frederick L. Strother, Jr. gives an uncanny interpretation of General Colin Powell which makes the audience sympathize with the difficult situations with which the then-Secretary of State had to cope. Rick Foucheux as President George W. Bush shows why he has won two Helen Hayes awards. Not only does he capture the vocal stylings of the president, but his body language and mannerisms helps the audience believe that he is the president. Deidra LaWan Starnes plays the cool and unassuming Condoleeza Rice in her days as National Security Advisor. Stephen F. Schmidt gives a strong performance as the very weak prime minister of Britain Tony Blair, obviously under the strong thumb of George Bush.
The remainder of the cast serves as ensemble playing some key roles but also very easily slipping in and out of the multitude of well-known and common characters that help the story flow so well. The uniformly strong supporting cast includes Barry Abrams (Paul Wolfowitz), Jeff Allin (Donald Rumsfeld), Amir Arison (French Ambassador to the U.N., Dominique de Villepin), Carlos Bustamante (French President, Jacques Chirac), Meghan Grady (a British woman in New York), Naomi Jacobson (John Negroponte, Laura Bush), Daniel Ladmirault (head of British MI6, Richard Dearlove) and Daniel Lyons (George Tenet, head of U.N. inspections, Hans Blix). Unfortunately, cast member Leo Erickson (Dick Cheney) was taken ill the day before this review. But as the show must go on, the talented Alan Wade, added yet another Helen Hayes nominee to the mix and read the role of Cheney from the side of the stage. Speaking to him at the intermission, he said that it was a shame that we didn’t get to see the blocking that included Cheney hovering in the background of the scenes, but I have to say that Wade read the part well and the effect of him sitting off to the side in shadow did give the effect of a shadowy Cheney hovering in the background.
The show also contains some excellent production values. James Kronzer’s simple black box set (literally black with a red stripe from one end of the set to the other) bisects the room with audience on both sides. The set is dressed very simply with 24 white wooden chairs that slide in, out and around the stage to set scenes, usually by the cast themselves. This keeps the show moving from scene to scene and the pacing helps to keep the story gripping. Debra Kim Sivigny’s costumes often help place the characters and effects quickly, as does Dan Covey’s lighting and Jarett C. Pisani’s sounds. Skidmore and his team should be proud of the final result.
Make no mistake. Although it often feels like a documentary, this is political theater at its best. Hare makes no effort to hide his distinctly liberally biased perspective. He takes political and humorous stabs at the conservative administration. He paints them with broad strokes to make them look either foolish or manipulatively irresponsible. He has clearly picked and chosen those facts and sound bites that will show the administration in a very weak light. However, whether you agree with his political point of view or not, you should still enjoy the production. Because he definitely makes politics seem like the most dramatic and engrossing game in town…and the most exciting.
Running Time 3:00 including one 15-minute intermission
When: Through July 20. Wed, Sat & Sun at 1:45 and 7:45 PM. Thu & Fri at 7:45 PM
Where: Olney Theatre Center, Mulitz-Gubelsky Lab, 2001 Olney Sandy Spring RD, Olney, MD
More Information: 301-924-3400 or on the website.