“What I Heard About Iraq,” a Fountain Theater world premiere adapted for the stage and directed by Simon Levy, isn’t really a play: It’s a rant, a cry of outrage delivered by five actors, exposing the deceptive strategies and heartless acts of violence perpetrated by the Bush administration. Taking its inspiration from an article by Eliot Weinberger in the London Review of Books, Levy’s drama, which he claims is “neither speculation or fiction,” utilizes comments from politicians, military chiefs, Iraqi citizens and U.S. soldiers.
The material, planned for presentation in parts of the world ranging from Boston and Connecticut to Luxembourg and Berlin, won’t be news to those who pore over politics. Sometimes details are sprung so rapidly that the content begins to blur in the spectator’s mind.
What makes Levy’s show more than traditional Rumsfeld- or Bush-bashing are startling quotes, less familiar than Dick Cheney’s pronouncement: “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
It’s spine-chilling to hear body bags euphemistically called “transfer tubes,” or to hear Barbara Bush’s appallingly out-of-touch remark, “Why should we care about body bags, or deaths? Why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”
The multiethnic cast — African-American Bernadette Speakes, Asian Ryun Yu, Caucasians Tony Pasqualini and Darcy Halsey, Middle Eastern Marc Casabani — comprises extraordinary performers. Their fluidly directed interplay encompasses overlapping dialogue as they pitch lines to each other with the precision of baseball stars, slam down chairs in despair and dance frenziedly to the accompaniment of a satirical animated video ridiculing the president and his cohorts.
Levy follows a smooth progression from Colin Powell’s statement that Hussein posed no weapons threat and that he was “unable to project conventional power against his neighbors,” to a totally opposite point of view. After the U.S. attack, Rumsfeld declares optimistically, “I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators” and Bush comments to Pat Robertson, “We’re not going to have any casualties.”
The human element is hellishly highlighted when a Marine describes “dead-checking,” a process by which soldiers examine the bodies of the wounded and press on each one’s eye with a boot, so that anyone faking death can be dispatched with a bullet to his brain. This procedure, along with torture techniques that cover rape and sodomy, has been well documented, although it would be helpful to balance the Abu Ghraib atrocities with other details so U.S. soldiers aren’t sweepingly summed up as savages.
Dave Marling’s outstanding sound effects — explosive noises of bombs, automatic weapons and helicopters — build a jarring atmosphere, making the aud feel we’re part of the war, and Daniel Seidner’s multimedia contributions are invaluable. The speeches grow increasingly intense, aided by a clip of a routine Hollywood action film, a shot of soldiers joyously applauding Bush’s promises and a painful picture of a bleeding child.
Rumsfeld, the chief villain of the piece, offers ideal fodder for Jon Stewart and other political comics with his remark, “Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.” But there’s nothing remotely funny about Weinberger’s quotes from a commander in chief who, at different times, declares himself a war president and a peace president.
As support vanishes from 16 countries, Bush concludes, “Two years from now, only the Brits may be with us. At some point, we may be the only ones left. That’s OK with me. We are America.”