Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A leader in need of a political win authorizes a massive military campaign, dreamt up by scheming advisors, in a far flung territory under the pretense of national defense. SCENA Theatre’s production of Sink the Belgrano! stakes its claim to this fertile theatrical landscape with biting satire and a slew of excellent performances, lampooning the political theater and backroom deals that preceded the Falklands War of 1982 (Ten points if you guessed correctly).
The cynical political undertones of sacrificing Argentine and British lives for control of a tiny, far-flung archipelago were clearly not lost on writer Steven Berkoff. In addressing the actions of the British political machine leading up to the conflict, Berkoff paints a scathing picture of incompetence, deceit, and cavalier disregard for human life. Each character proves him or her self despicable in a unique way, and the key players’ bizarre names, including “Maggot Scratcher”, “Pimp”, and “Nit”, augment their collective aura of depravity. The script’s surreal characterizations, inventive wordplay, and rich historical context provide the talented performers with ample opportunity to flex their dramatic and comedic muscles.
As the vile Maggot Scratcher, Nanna Ingvarsson dazzles the audience with a complex cocktail of ruthless ambition, seductive charm, and carefully concealed insecurity. Despite her character’s monstrous nature, Ingvarsson maintains an undeniable likeability, due to her razor-tongued wit and dominant stage presence. John Geoffrion and Michael Miyazaki nearly steal the show as Pimp and Nit, The Iron Lady’s slimy, sycophantic Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defense. The pair brings an athletic, frantic energy to the stage, which provides a hilarious counter to Ingvarsson’s commanding, ice-cold demeanor.
Robert McNamara’s clever, economical direction serves the production well. His use of carefully-choreographed pantomime and effective double casting allows the show to transition smoothly between a wide range of settings. The action shifts easily from a rocky plain on the churning sea to a war room in London and finally to the belly of a nuclear powered submarine, requiring only minimal costumes and sets to establish the necessary context.
The striking design scheme is anchored by a giant view screen and creative, carefully selected lighting effects. The screen, mounted on the back wall of the stage, flashes historical photos throughout the show, filling in the blanks of the conflict with a carefully chosen shot of a battleship or a certain self-styled cowboy president. The lighting designers manage the rapidly shifting locales and conditions with panache. At the height of their powers, they create an air of deep melancholy and isolation as the sailors pour their hearts out just before the final attack, their faces each illuminated by an eerie shaft of red darkroom light.
The quality of the production is unfortunately diminished by a few scenes that drag on too long. Regardless of the talent level of the performers, at certain spots they seem to run out of material and just stand around the stage awkwardly rehashing the same basic plot points and jokes. Berkoff may have been consciously trying to make the audience uncomfortable, or maybe he was just trying too hard to keep the jokes flowing. Regardless of the intent, the show could have benefited greatly from the excision of even a few minutes of repetitive banter.
Sink the Belgrano! pulls no punches in its brutally funny indictment of the actions of the British during the bloody, ill-advised conflict with Argentina. The parallels with our own recent military history are inescapable, affording the production multiple levels of social commentary, depending on how far down the rabbit hole you wish to go. This riotous, 1 ½ hour production rails against the ugliness of war and political gamesmanship with its bawdy repartee, surreal comedy, and take-no-prisoners attitude. It’s a clever reminder that you should never swallow the pill you’re being fed without at least asking a few questions first.
Sink the Belgrano!
By Stephen Berkoff
Directed by Robert McNamara
Produced by SCENA Theatre
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Sink the Belgrano! runs thru Sept 12, 2010.
SINK THE BELGRANO!
Sean Easter . CultureMob