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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Stuff Happens

Stuff Happens
Steve Schmidt, Rick Foucheux and Naomi Jacobson
Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington is presenting the area premiere of Stuff Happens, David Hare's retrospective look at the decisions and personality clashes that led to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. The issues may be even more urgent now than when Hare wrote the play in 2004, but it seems unlikely that the work will draw audiences other than those who are already skeptical about American foreign policy. In other words, this play—while staged beautifully with an accomplished cast—is not likely to change any minds.

Director Jeremy Skidmore deploys his 13 actors capably in the center of Olney's black box space, the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab; audience members envelop the performers, examining them at close range as though through a microscope. James Kronzer's minimalist scenic design consists of a red stripe around the playing area and an ever-moving set of plain white chairs.

Hare begins with a brief overview of the situation, from the unhealed wounds of Vietnam to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Then it's on to the main issue: the sense that George W. Bush (Rick Foucheux) and his advisors, specifically Donald Rumsfeld (Jeff Allin) and Paul Wolfowitz (Barry Abrams), were ready to jump on any pretext to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein.

While most of the actors bear limited physical resemblance to their real-life counterparts, Skidmore has worked hard to bring out the mannerisms and characteristic behaviors that make them recognizable. Foucheux is stockier and more expansive than President Bush, but he captures the president's swagger, his smugness, and the pride he takes in his own humility. Similarly, Allin conveys Rumsfeld's standoffish nature ("Stuff happens" is his dismissive comment on the looting that followed the invasion of Baghdad), while Deidra LaWan Starnes portrays Condoleezza Rice as a person who knows she's in over her head, but is determined to keep going nonetheless.

Hare has structured the play so that Colin Powell (the majestic Frederick L. Strother Jr.) is its tragic hero. Powell tries to bring his military perspective to his civilian duties as secretary of state, emphasizing to the non-combatants in the Bush Administration— that would be everyone but him—that war should only be a last resort. Because the world believed and trusted Powell, it was his (compromised) testimony before the United Nations that convinced the world that Iraq was an immediate threat. The consequences of that speech will linger for years.

Olney Theatre Center
Stuff Happens June 18th July 20th
By David Hare
Barry Abrams: Robin Cook, Paul Wolfowitz, and others
Jeff Allin: Jeremy Greenstock, John McCain, and Donald Rumsfeld
Amir Arison: Prologue, Dominique de Villepin, Iraqi Exile, and others
Carlos Bustamante: Jacques Chirac, JD Levitte, Jonathan Powell, and others
Leo Erickson: Dick Cheney
Rich Foucheux: George W. Bush
Meghan Grady: Brit in New York and others
Naomi Jacobson: Laura Bush, British Journalist, John Negroponte, and others
Daniel Ladmirault: General Amin, Richard Dearlove, Iraqi Spokesman, Jack Straw, and others
Daniel Lyons: Hans Blix, Alastair Campbell, Michael Gerson, George Tenet, and others
Stephen F. Schmidt: Tony Blair
Deidra LaWan Starnes: Condoleezza Rice
Frederick L. Strother Jr.: Colin Powell
Directed by Jeremy Skidmore
Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or www.olneytheatre.org


Photo: Will Dockery


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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