Zinnie Harris couldn’t have wished for better timing. As Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic faces a pre-trial hearing before the war crimes tribunal in the Hague, where he must answer charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, the playwright is looking at the awkward question of post-war reconciliation. Completing her war-themed trilogy that began with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Solstice” and “Midwinter,” “Fall” dares to ask how a newly peaceful nation should deal with the ugly legacy of civil war. At the hands of helmer Dominic Hill, the play is as somber and austere as it is gripped by moral urgency.
Where “Midwinter” (2004) took place at the close of a war in some unnamed foreign land and “Solstice” (2005) a decade earlier as that same war approached, “Fall” looks at the realpolitik of a nation taking its first shaky steps toward post-war democracy. Darrell D’Silva’s Pierre is a popular prime minister, but feels himself little more than a figurehead whose charisma disguises his political inadequacies.
During an evening of drunken self-pity, he accidentally stumbles on a solution to the problem of dealing with the nation’s imprisoned war criminals: If a representative of the people condemns them to death, it will make the government look less callous.
Who better to order the executions than Kate (Geraldine Alexander), a woman whose own husband has been exposed as a notorious war criminal? It is with Kate that the heart of Harris’ play lies.
She is a woman of compassion and almost endless understanding, who is so willing to face up to her late husband’s newly exposed crimes that she makes repeated visits to the cell of Evener (Cliff Burnett), a character with the same caged ferocity as Dr. Hannibal Lecter and a similarly chilling lack of repentance.
There is no denying this country has been the scene of vicious bloodshed and even humanitarian Kate reaches the limits of her liberal tolerance when she is forced to listen to the evidence against the war criminals. Her agreement to their executions comes as a shock to those of us living in pleasant places where capital punishment is a thing of the past, but Harris convincingly portrays the circumstances in which further violence seems like the only route to a lasting peace.
It makes for chewy, serious drama and helmer Hill, on his debut as artistic director of the Traverse, does all he can to intensify the mood of impending terror. With Tom Piper’s colorless set of sliding panels and Chahine Yavroyan’s restrained lighting, he creates something of the atmosphere of Eastern European theater, all shadows and grim illumination, and a pace that, for all its boisterous outbursts, is typically ruminative.
His cast is excellent, be it Meg Fraser’s out-of-her-depth First Lady, Paul Hickey’s Machiavellian prime minister’s deputy or Kevin McMonagle’s weak and humane lover of Kate. Whether powerful or powerless, they have the flavor of real people swept up in the great tide of contemporary politics in a play that worries away at issues that have repercussions around the world. It is a dense, knotty drama, unafraid to address the big issues of our time head on and a triumphant completion of Harris’ trilogy.