Stuff Happens

Dates and Venue 22 October - 8 November 2008, 8pm (matinees Sat & Sun 2pm) | The Firehall Arts Centre

Director Donna Spencer, Costume Design Sabrina Evertt, Lighting Rebekah Johnson Stage Management Anne Taylor

Reviewer John Jane

On entering the Firehall Arts Centre to see Sir David Hare’s 2004 quasi-documentary play, Stuff Happens the audience is beckoned by a bank of television monitors displaying a range of news broadcasts played on continuous loops. These broadcasts help to heighten the anticipation of credibility as the play attempts to grapple with how and perhaps, more importantly why an unwanted and ultimately unwinnable war was ever allowed to take place.

The explanation of the play’s title occurs in one of the early scenes as Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld (played by William B. Davis) conducts one of many press conferences witnessed throughout the show. Rumsfeld’s throw-away remark is a documented response to looting in post- liberation Baghdad. A response, that more than anything defined the cavalier view of the Bush administration to the war in Iraq.

Hare uses presumed accurate accounts of high level staff meetings, closed-door conferences, public addresses, and trans-Atlantic telephone discussions that eventually led George W. Bush to his decision to spearhead an invasion of Iraq. However, it’s with constructing his version of events of backdoor diplomacy and clandestine meetings between heads of state that the author takes historic licence.

For example: The meeting at Bush’s Prairie Chapel ranch in Crawford, Texas between himself and British prime minister, Tony Blair as the pair “lick each other’s wounds” could be little more than guesswork - since no third person was in attendance.

Audiences to this production may have difficulty in identifying some of the fringe characters. With the obvious exception of Catherine Lough Haggquist as Dr Condoleezza Rice, few of the actors bear any physical resemblance to the “real” people they portray. Petite blonde, Barbara Ellison covers the roles of Laura Bush, Jessica Stern, Jean-David Levitte and Alan Simpson (British MP) and doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to any of them (especially not the two male roles!)

While at times highly amusing, I found Glen Cairns cartoonish portrayal of George W. Bush better suited to a Saturday Night Live skit than local live theatre. William Taylor somewhat overplays a frustrated Coln Powell. Though, he arguably has the toughest casting assignment as the retired general who took over as Secretary of State from Madeleine Albright – Powell is the single voice of reason amongst the political hawks.

William B. Davis, best known among ‘X-File’ fans as the smoking man, has fewer lines than I might have expected, yet manages a sphinx-like performance as Rumsfeld, while Michael Grant Elliot combines eloquence and passion as Tony Blair. Dick Cheney is reduced to a fringe player in this mounting, but Kevin McNulty masterfully manifests the vice president’s notorious hard-nosed ideology with that infamous quote, “I never met a weapons system I wouldn’t vote for.”

Parnelli Parnes is a chameleon; thoroughly enjoying himself in such disparate roles of French Politician Dominique de Villepin, Egyptian technocrat Mohammed el Baradel, British civil servant David Manning and American speechwriter Michael Gerson.

Donna Spencer does an admirable job of pacing this production; No small accomplishment, for what is essentially a three-hour political history lesson. This is particularly so for a second act that is almost totally taken up by the semantics of United Nations demand resolutions – here, the title might have been modified to Nothing Happens.

© 2008 John Jane