Blood and Gifts

  • Our critic's rating:
    November 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall

    Blood is blood, and it is thicker than water. Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. Candy and flowers. Money and guns. It is the latter we are talking about here, and how the United States is managing the flow of them to the country du jour, which turns out to be the country du decade. Actually it is the country of the thirty years was, because this story is about Afghanistan, in whose garden we have been pi**ing for the past three decades.

    In this excellent production we are escorted through a sort of minefield of facts. Act I is a recap of our involvement (along with the aid of the British) in Afghanistan that began in the early 1980’s when Bush Sr. was second in command and Bush Jr. was an oilman. The Soviets were interested in acquiring Afghanistan, and some great part of the rest of the world didn’t think that was a good idea. The cold war had become something else, and it was global.

    This play sets out to be the story of James Warnock (Jeremy Davidson), who has been sent as a secret contact to Pakistan. He comes bearing gifts and asking for information. He will provide money and rifles in exchange for information on the Russians. As soon as he crosses paths with Abdullah Khan (Bernard White), however, the storyline is handed over to Khan. This proves to be a good deal for us, because White is an actor who fills up the stage with his enormous heart and skill. The other character who has significant air time is Simon Craig (Jefferson Mays) a career diplomat who has been in the field a few too many moons and is just about to snap. Mays inhabits Craig, right down to his flushed cheeks, with an urgency and precision that serves as a tonic to the often uncomfortable and unimaginative Mr. Davidson. The final bits of balance are provided by Michael Aronov as Dmitri Gromov, the Russian counterpart to Warnock, and John Procaccino as Senator Walter Barnes. J. T. Rogers has provided them with dialogue that is informative as well as compelling, and these two actors make the most of their roles.

    Rogers takes us through the hills and valleys of the Afghan fight for self-determination. This country seems to be at the center of every crossroads you can imagine. People live in the hills and strike like vipers. It is not a clean-cut war. It is dirty and political, and it is all about men, their genitals and their egos. There is no righteous cause. There is only dogged resistance. There is no sensible aide. There is only a misguided US government who needs to hear why a country so far away is remotely relevant to our welfare and why we should care about the death of millions of people. This is also the beginning of an Islamist state snuggled in the shoulder of Russia who shelters her own Muslim population.

    It is, in short, a big old mess. And this is the embarrassing story of how we were involved in this part of the world way before most of us knew about it.

    And that is what you will hear as you leave the theatre. “I have to go read up on this.” “I had no idea this was going on.” “We sent them guns?’

    Bartlett Sher has created a smashing production that makes it possible for us to actually follow this horrific chess game. This is a sort of theatrical ballet that coats this insanity with a kind of logic that makes it understandable.

    "Superb new play."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "Never quite reaches the emotional depths that would make it truly great, it’s nonetheless consistently gripping theater."
    Frank Scheck for New York Post

    "Gripping and absorbing drama."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "Ultimately more earnest than insightful."
    Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey

    "Stereotyped characters in cliched situations."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

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