Phew! Over a week between trips to the theatre and I was starting to go a little stir-crazy over here at the Visitorium…I think Winston is starting to get sick of me hanging around, frankly. Well, okay, I have been doing some theatrical stuff in a non-reviewing capacity (details soon), but sometimes you just like to take your seat, wait for the lights to dim and see the magic happen, you dig? Which is just what me and classmate Kathryn did yesterday when the GCTC had its gala opening night for a new piece from Canuck playwright phenom Hannah Moscovitch, THIS IS WAR. Hannah’s writing had last been brought to impressive life at the Irving Greenberg with EAST OF BERLIN in 2012, and I was definitely hankering for more. And this time around, the show was being directed by none other than new GCTC Artistic Director Eric Coates himself!
The tale…‘controversial’ to some, I’m told, which is usually a good sign…takes place in a particularly roughshod Canadian military camp in Afghanistan. Coalition forces are fighting a dirty, slippery slope of a war with the Taliban forces, with no end in sight and little cause for celebration. We follow four soldiers being questioned after a dubious finish to an especially grisly mission, and look back at the moments leading up to it, from each of their perspectives. Sergeant Stephen Hughes (John Ng, in a goddam powerful performance) tries to maintain command over his troops, while trying to keep a hold on his own increasing instability. Newly arrived Private Jonny Henderson (Drew Moore, Ottawa Theatre School graduate…shoutout!) has to deal with a rocky first day at camp to say the least, not exactly helped by instantly falling for Master Corporal Tanya Young (Sarah Finn), who has more than enough baggage of her own to deal with already. The tenuous voice of reason in all this is Sergeant and Medic Chris Anders (Brad Long), moving from soldier to solider and trying to keep both psyches and morale intact, when possible. But that ain’t always the case.
THIS IS WAR tells multiple stories in one, showcasing some of the more brutal and insidious ways the monstrous shit-beast we call war manipulates, mutilates, and just generally fucks with the regular human beings we call soldiers. Moscovitch has written an especially intriguing role for Tanya, here played by the always great Sarah Finn. I had some expectations and fears about what might be seen in this show as far as women in the military was concerned…those expectations were dashed, but I can’t decide if what I ended up seeing was better or much, much worse. I’ll certainly be thinking about a lot of aspects of this play for a while to come, and so, I expect, will a lot of folks. Drew Moore’s prairie boy soldier Jonny is alternately endearing and heartbreaking, with Brad Long’s Anders almost too calm to be true. John Ng, the only actor I hadn’t previously been familiar with, is just great as the big-talking Sergeant trying to carry worlds on his shoulders. A killer ensemble that’s gonna be hard to beat on Ottawa stages this year. Consider the bar set.
Eric Coates keep the production clean with a minimal set, assisted by some spot-on lighting from Jock Munro, awesome soundscape from Steven Lafond and great costumes courtesy of Brian Smith. This is one that will sit with you for a while, as it should, after it is seen. And it should very definitely be seen. Hannah Moscovitch is rapidly becoming as close to a household name as modern playwrights can in this country, and there’s a reason. Go find out for yourself…THIS IS WAR plays until the 23rd at the GCTC (and check out some UNDERCURRENTS there starting next week while you’re at it!).. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)