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The ghosts of Iraq haunt us still + ticket giveaway

By Alejandro Bustos on February 9, 2015

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We are giving away a pair of tickets to the evening show of Stuff Happens on Saturday, February 14. To enter email apartment613@gmail.com by 2 pm Tuesday, February 10 with the subject line “Stuff Happens – Contest”.  The winner of the random draw will be notified on Tuesday afternoon.

Why did the United States invade Iraq in 2003?  Depending on your politics, citizenship and country of residence, your answer could be one of the following: “oil”, “Haliburton profits,” “avenging 9/11”, “eliminating a  brutal dictatorship,” “colossal incompetence.”

For playwright David Hare the answer is straightforward:  the Bush Administration used the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as an excuse to overthrow Saddam Hussein.  Relying on the widespread panic that overtook the U.S. after 9/11, a group of right-wing hawks in the White House pushed the county into war to implement its own ideological agenda.

This viewpoint is the premise behind Stuff Happens, which is playing at the National Arts Centre until February 21.  While it originally debuted in 2004, this work is still timely given the current discussion about fighting ISIS.

The play’s name comes from a famous quote by then U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.

“Stuff happens,” Rumsfeld said when asked to comment on the widespread looting in the Iraqi capital.  “[I]t’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”

What are we to make of this incendiary comment and, more specifically, the invasion itself?  Stuff Happens tackles this topic by offering a peek at the debate that took place inside the Bush White House in the run-up to the war.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQbjIG7n94g#t=19[/youtube]

After watching this interesting but flawed play I was left with mix feelings.

Let’s start with the positives.  Greg Malone is brilliant as Donald Rumsfeld, capturing perfectly the uncompromising and goofy nature of the controversial U.S. Secretary of Defence.

Christopher Morris also does an excellent job of portraying the idealistic British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose decision to join the U.S. war effort is based on a genuine desire to overthrow dictatorships.

This story also highlights the different views in the pro-invasion camp.  Tony Blair’s belief in “progressive war” is contrasted with those of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who is only interested in protecting U.S. power.  Paul Wolfowitz’s argument that the first world has a moral duty to overthrow dictatorships is compared with Colin Powell’s deep unease about the consequences of going to war.

So there is a lot to like about this play.

However,  other parts of this performance are so-so.  For example, to my surprise, Peter James Haworth did a mediocre job of portraying French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who played a key role in the international discussions that preceded the invasion.

This past September I was highly impressed by Haworth’s work in The Boy in the Moon.  In Stuff Happens, in contrast, Haworth doesn’t even attempt to capture the accent and mannerisms of de Villepin.  When a joke is made about the French Foreign Minister’s English, it falls completely flat as Haworth speaks throughout the play in the same way, i.e. as a native English speaker.

Then there is the character of George W. Bush, which is shown as pure caricature.  Instead of offering an intelligent critique of Bush, which is not that hard to do, Hare takes the easy way out by simply mocking “Dubya”.

This reliance on the easy laugh underscores a key problem with this play:  While seeking to promote an intelligent discussion on the invasion of Iraq, it can’t help but label the Bush Administration – and the United States public in general – as stupid.  While this may seem obvious to many people, it does not tell the audience anything it hasn’t already heard a million times.

So given these flaws why would I recommend that you watch this play?  Well, more than two days after watching this performance I was still thinking about it.  While I could name numerous problems, as well as quibble with many details, I was also moved to discuss at length the invasion of Iraq and the lessons that we can draw from this war today.

If the purpose of this play is to make the audience think, then it can safely declare – and please pardon the expression – mission accomplished.

Stuff Happens is playing at the NAC until February 21.  Tickets start at $25.

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