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Dijla Wal Furat: Between the Tigris and the Euphrates

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Perri Yaniv and Temesgen Tocruray.
Photo by Bjorn Bolinder

Dijla Wal Furat: Between the Tigris and the Euphrates, playwright Maurice Decaul's examination of the early stages of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, serves as a potent reminder that war is one of the more pointless enterprises in which humanity engages with great and repetitive frequency.

The 90-minute play, presented by Poetic Theater Productions at the Wild Project, opens on a bare stage and sets the tone with a soundtrack of dissonant piano chords and a steady, nerve-wracking clanging sound, like that of a pile driver. After a couple of minutes, the noise transforms into the sounds of battle. Two Iraqi soldiers—Marid (Fahim Hamid), a staunch supporter of Saddam Hussein, and Labib (Ankur Rathee), who would just as soon walk away from the unfolding insanity—are hunkered down with their weapons and arguing about the merits of their purported cause in defense of the repressive regime.

And then, in a flash, Labib is killed. But while his physical self may be destroyed, his spirit lingers on and seeks to join with Marid's body, forcing the latter to leave the battleground and make the trek to the home of Labib's mother in Baghdad. There will be no peace for Marid until he fulfills this new mission.

We continue to follow their story on and off through the rest of the play, but we also spend time with four U. S. Marines, both in full battle mode and in quieter moments in which we see the mounting toll of their psyches. Embedded with the troops is a French journalist, Ines (a terrific Katie Zaffrann), who is tasked with observing interactions between the soldiers and the Iraqi civilian population.

Some of the strongest emotional moments occur when Ines is on the scene. She is a tough one, with lots of experience as a war correspondent, but it is through her eyes that we see the pain and suffering of all of the willing and unwilling participants. Among these is Mahmoud (Ali Andre Ali), a civilian engineer who is hopeful that the Americans will kill Saddam and then leave.

But like so many, Mahmoud's life is upended when his home is destroyed and his young daughter is killed. As he wanders into the Marine encampment, seeking to pass through to a place where he can bury her, he is turned away. Here, Ines steps out of her observer's role and tries to intervene, but she, too, is rebuffed. This entire scene is carried out in Spanish, the only common language that allows for communication between Mahmoud (who studied engineering in Cuba) and the Americans, represented by a Spanish-speaking Marine named David (Nabil Viñas). It is a testament to the writing and to the actors' skill that the language barrier does not interfere with the audience's complete understanding of the interaction.

The performances under Alex Mallory's direction are first-rate all around. In addition to those previously mentioned, the company includes Victory Chappotin, Perri Yaniv, and Temesgen Tocruray as the other three Marines. The battle scenes are depicted through the very effective use of Jaime A. Diaz's sound design and Derek Miller's lighting design, and the realistic costumes are by Liene Dobraja.

As in the actual war, the play does not have a clear and decisive ending. But without being overly political (no mention of weapons of mass destruction, for instance), it makes it point, clearly and emphatically. As Mahmoud says as he walks off, still holding on to his daughter's body: "esto está mal."

Dijla Wal Furat: Between the Tigris and the Euphrates
Through February 21
the wild project, 195 East 3rd Street between Avenues A & B
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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