THE BODY OF AN AMERICAN
by Dan O’Brien.
Gate Theatre above The Prince Albert Pub 11 Pembridge Road Notting Hill W11 3HQ To 14 February.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 12 Feb 3pm.
TICKETS: 020 7229 0706.
then Royal & Derngate (Underground) Guildhall Road NN1 1DP 27 February-8 March 2014.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat & 6 March 2.45pm.
Post-show Discussion 3 March.
TICKETS: 01604 624811.
Runs: 1hr 30min No interval.
Review: Carole Woddis 21 January.
The bigger picture on war photography.
What drives war reporters and photographers back to the killing fields?
Towards the end of Dan O’Brien’s remarkable, and semi-autobiographical The Body of An American, his putative playwright and alter ego Dan, stumbling in his quest to finish a play about ghosts, describes witnessing the twin towers come down on 9/11. “I told myself, if there’s going to be a war, I will go.” But he never went, “because I didn’t consider it the right war.”
His listener is the man he’s been admiring from afar and now meets-up with in the frozen wastes of northern Canada, war photographer Paul Watson, whose photo of a dead American soldier being dragged by a mob through the streets of Mogadishu in 1993 won him a Pulitzer prize. To Dan, Paul’s war reportage career denotes courage. And even, he adds, altruism.
Paul’s response is cautionary. It has nothing to do with that. Rather the opposite, the bolstering of self-esteem – at least initially. He’s now in the third stage. Having covered the world’s trouble-spots with a camera and the one arm he was born with, he now follows the Inuits.
In the end, The Body of an American is, however, not so much an anatomy of man’s depressing inhumanity to man, their real life friendship or even ethical positions of war photography responsibility – although accompanied by a selection of Watson’s actual photos, that is never very far away. O’Brien’s writing – fast, staccato, almost `gonzo’-like in the style of Hunter S Thompson – describes a relationship of two contrasting but similar men, each haunted by ghosts and driven by compulsions.
It also offers a peach of an opportunity to the two actors who not only play Dan and Paul but a dozen or so other characters. William Gaminara, unrecognisable from his Prof Leo Dalston of Silent Witness fame is magnificent as the grizzled photographer and is beautifully matched by Damien Molony’s younger, disciple-like Dan.
A mesmerising if sometimes bewildering 90 minutes in James Dacre’s dynamic but over-paced production, it rounds off Christopher Haydon’s impressive `American Lives’ season at the Gate.
Paul/Various: William Gaminara.
Dan/Various: Damien Molony.
Director: James Dacre.
Design: Alex Lowde.
Lighting: Charles Balfour.
Sound: Adrienne Quartly.
Video: Dick Straker for Mesmer.
Video Programmer: Joshua Pharo.
Dialect coach: Martin McKellan.
Associate lighting: Oscar Wyatt.
Artist in Residence: Cyrus Mahboubian.
European premiere of The Body of an American, Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, London 16 January 2014 in a co-production with Royal and Derngate Northampton.
Inspired in part by the book Where War Lives by Paul Watson.
World premiere of The Body of an American was at Portland Center Stage Portland Oregon. It was workshopped at JAW Playwrights Festival produced by Portland Center Stage.
The play was first commissioned and developed with support from The Playwrights’ Center McKnight Commission and Residency Program, Minneapolis, Minnesota.