By Kathy Henderson
Updated March 12, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

While Hollywood’s acting elite spent Oscar week primping, partying, and pressing the flesh, Tim Robbins was in New York City directing his play Embedded at Off Broadway’s Public Theater. After three previews, Robbins flew to L.A., where, in his Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech, he thanked the Embedded cast ”for putting up with me being here.” Within 12 hours, he was back on a plane to polish a production that has already become a hot ticket.

Writing Embedded ”helped me deal with some of my frustrations,” says Robbins, whose antiwar views led to the cancellation of last year’s Bull Durham celebration at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rather than indulge in awards-show rants, Robbins channeled his feelings into his fifth play, a fast-paced satire of the Iraq war written (like the others) for the Actors’ Gang, an L.A.-based theater company he helped found 23 years ago. ”The people who started the Gang were punk rockers. We wanted to do theater with that kind of excitement,” he says of the play’s striking blend of quick scene changes, projections, and music.

With a cast of characters that includes Private Jen-Jen Ryan (a fictionalized Jessica Lynch), a musical-theater-loving colonel who quotes The King and I as he drills soon-to-be-embedded journalists, and mask-wearing members of a government cabal with names like Dick, Rum-Rum, and Gondola, Embedded skewers right-wing policy makers while expressing warm support for the troops. ”I have only admiration for people who use the armed forces to make their life better,” Robbins says. ”But they shouldn’t send these kids into dangerous situations on the pretext of lies.”