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Stuff Happens (Stage - 2005)

C

What’s that tittering coming from L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum? Stuff Happens is a serious play from seriously renowned playwright David Hare about the political lead-up to the Iraq war. Hare insists it’s a painstakingly fair docudrama. The director of the American premiere, Gordon Davidson, swears in program notes that there’ll be no agitprop or finger-pointing. Yet when the Bush cabinet members are introduced, each is greeted with guffaws, boos, and hissing rarely heard outside a tourist-town melodrama. Didn’t the audience get Hare’s fair-and-balanced memo?

Presumably they did. . .and recognized hype about dramatic objectivity for the bullstuff it was. The creators are as eager to preach as the choir is to be preached to, even when initial slapstick caricatures slightly let up and everyone starts aiming for Shakespeare, not SNL. Tragic heroes Colin Powell (Tyrees Allen, angry and noble) and Tony Blair (Julian Sands, perpetually exasperated) resist the war tide with more emotiveness than anyone could realistically imagine. It’s not clear why they cave in, since their antagonists are cartoons. John Michael Higgins, so good in the Christopher Guest movies, plays Donald Rumsfeld as a wildly gesticulating ninny. Dakin Matthews is Dick Cheney as an evil overlord. Keith Carradine’s Bush is — surprise — a blustery, Christ-besotted cowboy.

The title derives from Rumsfeld’s famous press-conference remark about the invasion’s messy aftermath. That’s a euphemistic phrase, so it’s ironic that Hare mostly has his characters speak their intentions bluntly, not in the kind of political code language that NPR’s Harry Shearer satirizes so slyly each week. Hare’s half-sinister, half-Hooterville White House may play as well on Manhattan’s Upper West Side as it has for L.A. west-siders and London’s West Enders. But passing its patronization off as anything but agitprop is a little like a world superpower spinning the war as a quickie al-Qaeda Roto-Rooter job. (213-628-2772) C

Stuff Happens (Stage - 2005)
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