Touchstone Theatre, Felix Culpa and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
Palace of the End
by Judith Thompson

Dates and Venue 21 May – 6 June 2009, 8pm | P.A.L. Theatre, 581 Cardero St. at Georgia St.

Directors David Bloom, Katrina Dunn & Mindy Parfitt Set Design Yvan Morissette Lighting Design john Webber Costume Design Farnaz Khaki-Sadigh Sound Design brian linds Stage Manager Robin Richardson

Reviewer John Jane

Canadian playwright Judith Thompson’s ominously titled play, Palace of the End is actually a triptych of finely crafted monologues presented in reverse chronological order. Thompson chronicles to varying degrees of accuracy the stories of three “victims” of the Iraq invasions: an American Soldier, a British scientist and an Iraqi political activist.

Because these accounts are enacted in three different geographical locations, Yvan Morissette’s set must combine three story-specific set pieces on a single stage. Morissette accomplishes this by arranging the sets on three different levels.

In the first monologue we see a very pregnant soldier in battle fatigues at her work station on a U.S. army base. The provided programme only lists the character as “Soldier,” but it gradually becomes clear that the narrative is centred on Lynndie England who was court-martialled for the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib (Baghdad Correctional Facility).

Alexa Devine gives a perfectly balanced portrayal of an under educated enlisted soldier who was both victim and villain. The playwright’s speculative study of the subject’s character is sympathetic; blaming her over eagerness to fit in with her unit’s culture of cruelty. Ms Devine’s nuanced performance reveals the young soldier’s ulterior contrition.

Next, British weapons inspector Dr. David Kelly, chillingly portrayed by Russell Roberts, recounts his story, as he lies bleeding on Harrowdown Hill, the place where his body was found. Kelly was compliant, before eventually becoming a whistle blower exposing his government’s “sexed up” reports concerning Saddam’s weaponry.

Roberts’ monologue is the most hypothetical of the triad, since it attempts to rationise Kelly’s thoughts while he carried out his own suicide; the circumstances of which have been expostulated by conspiracy theorists.

In the play’s third and most harrowing testimony, Iraqi Nehrjas Al-Saffarh, a high-profile member of the Communist party is played by Pakistani-Canadian Laara Sadiq, who gives a remarkable understated, yet powerful and passionate performance. It’s in this segment that the meaning of the play’s title is revealed. The Palace of the end is a macabre euphemism for Saddam’s interrogation centre where Al-Saffarh and her two sons (the youngest, only eight years old) were tortured. Although her son dies at the hands of Saddam’s brutal secret police, Al-Saffarh survives, only to to be killed as a victim of “collateral damage” in the allied forces bombing in 1992.

Ms Sadiq relates the Iraqi widow’s story in an atmosphere of almost bizarre surrealism. Quietly sipping tea, she directs her conversational style monologue directly at the audience.

This play is expressly for the strong of stomach. even so, if you can stand it, you will love it.

© 2009 John Jane