The synchronicity was surprising last week with the quiet opening of Abu Ghraib Triptych, an hour-long work by American writer Peter Maloney that marks the re-emergence of the Alley Theatre Workshop after some downtime.
Why synchronous? Because the show parallels some of the material in Judith Thompson's Palace Of The End, which ends its run tonight at Canadian Stage; each play is a trio of monologues, though Maloney intercuts his while Thompson's run one after the other. The works share an anger at U.S. military action in Iraq, but more specifically each offers a version of Lynndie England, the soldier caught on video with her dog leash and unhappily submissive victim.
Maloney's characters are George W. Bush looking at Abu Ghraib images with his staff, the England figure (here called Cassie Jessup) and Kasim, an Iraqi who, in the wrong place at the wrong time, has been imprisoned for months.
The writing is uneven, with the racist, sexist and buffoon-like Bush a too-easily-lampooned target; justifying the torture he approved, he looks at all the images of those in pain as slightly amplified versions of frat initiation pranks. The point's made quickly and then repeated time and again. The female soldier is given more emotional depth, but it's a quick portrait that needs further amplification.
The script succeeds best with the bloodied Kasim, a video-store owner who, in his delirium, turns the world into versions of the movies he knows, including E.T. and The Deer Hunter. The most articulate and feeling of three, he lingers in our memory.
What's special about the production is how it's being presented. Producer Michael Kash has organized three different directors and casts, each playing for a week; the piece is presented in association with the Oyster Co-op.
I caught the first week's show, with Kash directing Jarrod MacLean (Bush), Sharon Heldt (Cassie) and Frank De Francesco (Kasim). Heldt had some strong moments, especially in a speech about a beloved dog and a snapping turtle, while De Francesco's powerful Kasim, given a Christ-like overtone, was both funny and moving.
This week Kash steps into the Bush role, with Al Bernstein and Ingrid Doucet as his fellow performers and Adam Large directing. The final two performances are tonight (Saturday, 8 and 10).
Next week Michael Waller directs Louise Gauthier, Dylan Smith and Michael Ferguson.
See our theatre listings page.