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- Written by Content Manager
- Category: Culture
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March 20, 2003, the day US forces entered Iraq, is a day that no ordinary Iraqi person will forget. It is also the backdrop to Aftermath’s exploration of war, community and the need for connection that bridges humanity. The play, originally commissioned by the New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) and co-written by award-winning playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen (The Exonerated), is based on 35 interviews they conducted with Iraqi civilians in Amman, Jordan in 2008. “A cross-section of lives interrupted – who fled the chaos and violence that befell Iraqi society for the relative safety of Jordan.” The next year, Aftermath premiered at NYTW, a sobering and raw docudrama crafted from those conversations, dramatized by a cast of nine.
Running at just under 90 with no intermission, what makes this play so remarkable is that these nine gifted actors don’t allow you the luxury of depersonalizing military combat that one can get simply by viewing it as a series of images. Lively and engaged, the cast’s greatest strength is in how they keep us pulled in, making us believe that they are the original interviewees who have taken us into their homes for coffee and a truthful and generous heart to heart talk.
The play, written to put the audience in the place of the interviewers is candid and emotional, and as the characters take turns telling us their personal experiences of that fateful invasion of March 20, we see the aftershocks war has on ordinary lives: Yassar, a good-time dermatologist who ends up working the carnage of an operating room for two weeks (Shoresh Alaudini); a young couple, who’ve built their dream home and then must flee everything ( Susu Attar and Dolfakar Mardan); a couple who’d been theater professionals under Saddam and now cannot make art (Andrea Ali and Hassan Alnawar); Basmina, a Christian woman (Janan Ali ) left burned and half-blind, her family all dead in a random car bombing.
Yara Badday, brilliant as the pharmacist Rafiq, must watch impotent as sanctions deny people the medicine they need to live. After American soldiers break into the family’s home with no warrant or arrest orders, kill her nephew in front of his mother and sister, she asks in a heartbreaking soliloquy, “I just want to understand, who is the criminal? …Who is the suspect, . . . judge . . . executioner? What is the law? Does this happen in America? Can this happen anywhere on the earth?”
The most familiar of the characters’ stories comes from Abdul-Aliyy (Munaf Alsafi), a charitable neighborhood Imam, trying to keep his community fed and safe as the war rages is hooded and taken to Abu Gharib where he is tortured. After his release he tells us, “You know Saddam was convicted and executed because he killed 148. Now everyday 148 people are killed. . . Everyday, everyday. Is this what we have harvested from all this. . . ?”
But the horrors of what American forces have wrought in this country hit us most forcefully with the Shahid the translator (Mohammad Chakmakchi), who early on tells us, “You know the first constitution was in Iraq. Hammurabi’s stone? . . . So there are rules, even for rulers.”
Instead of studying Arabic for years, flying to Baghdad and Faluja, gaining the trust of your Shia Sunni and Christian neighbors, buy a ticket to Aftermath. It’s an unforgettable trip.
Aftermath, June 7 to 30. Theatre Period, 446 Valencia Street, San Francisco. Tickets at theatreperiod.com. Written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. Produced by Paul Jennings. Directed by Lennon Smith.By Wendy Coyle, Aslan Media Contributor
*Photo Credit: Nicole Gluckstern, courtesy of Theatre, Period
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