David Hare’s Stuff Happens, first performed in London in 2004 and in L.A. last spring, is rather maddening. Billed as a ”history play,” Stuff Happens recounts the run-up to the Iraq war through the public statements and imagined closed-door conversations of Tony Blair, George W. Bush, and key figures in both administrations. It’s not hard to guess on which side of the political fence Hare sits. In a coy ”playwright’s note” in the program, the British writer states: ”Nothing in the narrative is knowingly untrue. Less than a quarter of the play quotes the public statements of politicians verbatim.” That bit of Clintonian doublespeak suggests just what’s wrong with this exercise, which is intelligently constructed and generally well-performed (ER vet Gloria Reuben is particularly fine as Condoleeza Rice). Conservatives will be inclined to write off Stuff Happens as yet another example of liberal agitprop. Alas, they’d be right. Too often, Hare resorts to the easy joke, dismissing Bush’s adopted hometown of Crawford, Tex., in a throwaway line as ”little more than a crossroads in a scorpion-infested wilderness.” As a result, even politically independent-minded viewers (in which camp I’d include myself) are unlikely to be persuaded by the arguments presented on the Public Theater’s stage. The show emerges as a noble failure, written with more indignation than insight. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with preaching to the choir. And liberals still incensed about the U.S. invasion of Iraq can contentedly wallow in antiwar nostalgia, reminded all over again about why they were so outraged three years ago. They may especially spark to seeing Colin Powell (Peter Francis James) as tragic hero, a stiff-shouldered Cassandra who reluctantly declines to stand on principle and defend his war-at-last-resort-only position. But Hare does his cause (and his play) a disservice with his cartoonish portraits of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and particularly George W. Bush, here depicted as a mumble-mouthed idiot only a shade more grounded than Will Forte’s caricature on Saturday Night Live. Why is it so hard for some Bush opponents to conceive of him as an equal? It can be fun to joke about his tortured relationship with the English language, but portraying the two-term president as a simpleton seriously underestimates him — and the nature of his power — a mistake that liberal intellectuals continue to make at their peril. (Tickets: Call Telecharge at 212-239-6200, or visit