Skip To Content

This is War shows the human scars caused by Canada’s military role in Afghanistan

By Alejandro Bustos on February 7, 2014

Hannah Moscovitch has been called Canada’s most competent and hottest young playwright.  This praise extends abroad, with such publications as the Chicago Tribune and The Guardian recognising her talent.

Watching her newest play This is War, which runs at the Great Canadian Theatre Company until February 23, it is clear why the 35-year-old has received so much acclaim.

Set in Afghanistan in the Panjwaii region, the story revolves around four Canadian soldiers who are struggling to deal with their wartime experiences.  Lurking in the background are reports of a massacre committed by the Afghan National Army during a joint-operation involving Canadian soldiers.

Inspired by real events, the play switches between scenes in the Canadian military camp, and the questioning of the soldiers by an unseen journalist who is trying to figure out what happened during the massacre.  (The soldiers “testify” in successive order).

Directed by Eric Coates, who is also the Artistic Director at the GCTC, the play is not afraid to tackle complex themes.  Each of the four characters – all of whom are played by Ottawa residents or natives – offer different perspectives on Canada’s military role.

Master Corporal Tanya Young (played by Sarah Finn) is haunted by memories of previously shooting an Afghan girl by accident.  This traumatic incident leads her to engage in chaotic behaviour, while having to operate within the male-dominated world of the military.

Photo of John Ng by Andrew Alexander.

Photo of John Ng by Andrew Alexander.

Sergeant Stephen Hughes (John Ng) likes to portray himself as an easy-going bloke who only has the best interests of his men at heart.  Scratch a bit under the surface, however, and you will find a tormented man who is struggling with his own  personal demons.

Then there is Sergeant Chris Anders (Brad Long), a medical officer who is balancing his Christian faith with the reality around him, both personal and on the battlefield, as well as Private Jonny Henderson (Drew Moore), a 20-year-old Prairie boy who becomes a casualty of the Afghan war.

As a subject matter this story is brilliant.  The writing is also quite strong.  When it premiered last year in Toronto, however, the reviews were mixed.

One critic noted that the play had structural problems, namely, that some of the soldiers’ perspectives were too similar, resulting in repetitive scenes.  I would agree with this critique.

In addition, in the first quarter of the play, I was not drawn into the story.  Sometimes the acting on stage is so good you feel that you are immersed in the narrative.  This did not happen to me in the initial phases of the performance.

As the play moved forward, however, the strengths of the production started to come to life.  The characters became quite real, their inner torment all too apparent, and the horrors of the Afghan conflict clear for all to see.  A day after watching the opening night performance I was still contemplating the questions posed by the play, which is a sign of a strong work of art.

This is War may not be Moscovitch’s best work but it is very good.  For not only does it bring the complexity of the Afghan war to life, it will keep you thinking well after you have left the theatre.

This is War is at the GCTC (1233 Wellington St. West) until February 23.  Showtimes are at 8 pm, Tuesday-Friday, Saturday at 4 and 8:30 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm.  Regular Tickets start at $30 (though the price is subject to change as demand increases ), while the show this coming Sunday, February 9, is pay what you can.