STUFF HAPPENS By David Hare, directed by Joel Greenberg (Studio 180). At the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). To March 29. $20-$45. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNN
Apart from watching TV sound bites or over-rehearsed debates, we’re used to seeing politicians parodied and satirized, their nervous tics and looks nailed down so perfectly by comics and impressionists that we can shrug off their policies. Laughter normalizes them.
In Stuff Happens, playwright David Hare isn’t interested in laughs, although inevitably he gets a few. He’s going for something far more profound. He’s attempting to figure out, in a format I can only describe as theatrical docu-history, how the world got involved in the Iraq war.
His dramatis personae include George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair, among others. Seeing them played onstage by some of Toronto’s finest actors is an unusual experience in itself, eliciting not just an intellectual but also an empathetic response. They’re characters. What are they going to do? How are they going to react?
Of course, we know how things will play out, but Hare has arranged the chronology of events masterfully, interspersing matters of public record with behind-the-boardroom-door speculation.
As the issue takes on increasing global import, more international voices join the stage, and Hare finds the essential detail to sum up a person and a situation.
Beyond that, though, he uses metaphors and similes whenever he can, to show, not tell. Having an exasperated Blair (Andrew Gillies) say that Hans Blix (Guy Bannerman), appointed by the UN to search for so-called weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is running around Mesopotamia like Hercule Poirot is brilliant.
And despite its historicism and unusual structure, Hare knows that a play needs some sort of hero. His is Colin Powell, a flawed figure played with weary dignity by Nigel Shawn Williams.
There’s lots to point out in this production – which really needs a second look to be fully appreciated – but director Joel Greenberg deserves kudos for his impressive staging.
In a play this dense, clarity is paramount, and he achieves that in the graceful, confident shifting of a few office chairs and with a terrific ensemble who speak their lines with the urgency and weight they deserve.