The Great Game: Afghanistan – a seven-hour, three-play set of nineteen distinct stories covering nearly two centuries of superpower adventures in Afghanistan which played at Shakespeare Theatre’s Sidney Harman Hall last September – is coming back for a two-day engagement before an exclusive audience next month. Who is the exclusive audience? Pentagon staff, policymakers, humanitarian aid workers, the military and their guests.
Britain’s Tricycle Theatre will again produce the epic story cycle, which begins with Stephen Jeffreys’ Bugles at the Gates of Jalalabad, a story about the aftermath of an 1842 uprising in Kabul against occupying British forces in which only one British soldier, among sixteen thousand, survives, and concludes with a stunning scene in which another British soldier tries to explain to his wife why he is going back for yet another tour of duty in Simon Stephens’ Canopy of Stars. In between, The Great Game tracks the largely fruitless efforts of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States to influence Afghan life and public policy. (You can read DCTS’ reviews of the September productions here, here, and here).
Though the production makes pointed observations – particularly about the connection between the Taliban and Pakistani security forces and about the leadership of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud – it is not polemical. Tricycle’s thirteen playwrights (Siba Shakib writes four brief pieces, and the remaining stories are “verbatims” taken from transcripts of statements by public figures) shroud their stories in complexity and ambiguity, much as Afghanistan itself is shrouded. It is, in short, the sort of political play ideally suited for Washington, where politics is a profession, to be taken seriously and practiced cautiously.
Peter Marks writing in today’s Washington Post quoted Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Perry, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying that it was the interest from several officers who saw the September production, including Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, which prompted the idea for the exclusive viewing by the American military and its policymakers.
Funding was arranged between Tricycle, the Shakespeare Theatre, the British Council (the U.K.’s international cultural relations and education organization) and the Bob Woodruff Foundation (which principally provides resources and support to service members, veterans and their families to successfully reintegrate into their communities).
Tricycle received an equally positive reaction from the British military when it first presented The Great Game in 2009. The U.K.’s top military commander, General Sir David Richards, said, “I can tell you that the Ministry of Defense as a whole, and certainly the armed forces desperately want to understand the country well, and this series of plays – if I had seen it before I had deployed [to Afghanistan] myself in 2005 for the first time – would have made me a much better Commander of the ISAF Forces.”
The performances will run on Thursday and Friday, February 10-11 at Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, DC.
DCTS reviews of The Great Game: Afghanistan by Tim Treanor:
The Great Game: Afghanistan, Part 1
The Great Game: Afghanistan, Part 2
The Great Game: Afghanistan, Part 3
Interview with Nicholas Kent, co-director of The Great Game: Afghanistan