Two alternating monologues take a glibly cynical look at the military and the media.
Peter Morris’s smugly moralistic 2005 play comprises two contrasting monologues based on real-life events connected to the early days of the Iraq War: the Abu Ghraib scandal, with its haunting images of U.S. soldiers gleefully torturing prisoners, and a hoax involving staged photos purporting to show British soldiers engaging in similar behavior, whose publication by the Daily Mirror eventually led to the firing of then-editor Piers Morgan.
One of Morris’s two characters is obviously based on Lynndie England, the American soldier who became the face of the Abu Ghraib case. Morris paints his version, played by Jaci Entwhistle with a sweet West Virginia twang and an inner spark, as a naive girl caught up in a sexual liaison with a sadistic superior.
The other character is rather a sadist himself: a young British journalist who aspires to become a firebrand columnist, and also happens to be into rough sex. The playwright imagines this proudly repellent bloke staging the hoax photos himself, with his submissive boyfriend playing the victim, in hopes of advancing his career.
The latter character, played with bracing bluntness by Adam Soule, personifies a raging cynicism about journalistic ethics (or lack thereof). “You don’t get the truth” from newspapers, he tells us, “you get a story.” His jaded generalizations get bigger from there, as Morris draws a line between the man’s sexual proclivities and his chosen profession: “I'd longed for a career in pornography, but why drive my mother into an early grave, I thought. So I settled for the most plausible alternative. There's no difference, really, is there?”
The soldier lacks the journalist’s glib tilt, mostly, but sometimes shares his florid way with language in a way that seems at odds with her self-described background as an undereducated hick. When she describes the array of palaces in Iraq as “like a petrified forest of girly-ass birthday cakes,” or her relationship with the superior she’s sleeping with using an intricate extended metaphor about a kite, you hear a playwright a little too in love with his own words.
Ultimately, both of these alternating stories come across as too facile, and taken together, too pleased with themselves. Morris, who is American but has lived and largely worked in England, shows his eagerness to indict aspects of both cultures. The soldier is painted as a scapegoat and, to some degree, a victim, but by the end of her story she’s indicting us: “While you was out at the movies, or looking at pictures of me on television, somebody broke into your country and stole it.” It’s a powerful and timely statement, but one you don’t quite believe coming from its speaker.
Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co. By Peter Morris. Directed by Arianna Soloway. With Jaci Entwhistle, Adam Soule. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission.