In his book about growing up in Kenya, journalist Aidan Hartley recalls a press agency chief who described Mogadishu as so dangerous he wouldn’t even send his ex-wife there.
Dan O’Brien’s two man drama is a window into that world. It’s a feisty docu-drama about Paul Watson, the hard bitten photojournalist who snapped the famous picture of an American marine whose body was dragged through Mogadishu by a mob in 1993. Paul’s memories and photos are then refracted through a friendship with writer Dan (O’Brien) who is trying to finish a play in Princeton. Both need each other: one to expiate guilt at coldly recording atrocities, the other to banish demons of his own.
O’Brien’s play is a fascinating mix of troubled and troubling biography and autobiography. The experience of confronting human atrocities is turned into a psychological journey and there is a yin and yang of machismo and anti-machismo in the derelict fiftysomething photographer and the self-deprecating thirtysomething writer.
It is a species of buddy story, teeming with characters, from the shrink in Johannesburg to Inuits in the Arctic Circle and the brother of the Marine in the Midwest – all of whom turn the story into on a spiritual road trip.
What really makes the show is an exceptionally assured production by James Dacre. Alex Lowde’s traverse design sets the action in a snow filled cave bookended by projections of Paul’s pictures summoned with the snap of fingers. It’s like being inside the men’s heads and Adrienne Quartly’s sound covers emails, helicopters and snow blasted tundra.
But the performers impress most with William Gaminara’s Paul having the gaunt look of a man who’s been to the end of the line and Damien Molony’s fleshier cheeks belying an intensity of his own.
Both run a linguistic torrent hopping in and out of each others’ thoughts and if the play does exorcise its demons too easily, it still holds you in a steely grip.
By Patrick Marmion