Friday, July 4, 2008
Gas explores the horror and banality of the Iraq war
by Amy Barrett - The Montreal Mirror
The morning after seeing Infinitheatre’s Gas, a new play about the war in Iraq, I read a news story about a Canadian soldier going on trial for killing another Canadian soldier in Afghanistan. The latter seemed to confirm the timeliness and importance of the former. With Jason Maghanoy’s play, directed by Guy Sprung, Infini has got its mojo back. This is the best thing they’ve done since The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios.
Maghanoy, a National Theatre School playwriting graduate, has wisely not tackled Iraq or American foreign policy in general, but has created a snapshot of five soldiers whose mission is all about gasoline: delivering it to other units or selling it to Iraqis.
Brandon Coffey plays Josh, a good ol’ boy who joined up because he wanted to be part of something important. And because they give you a gun. When he’s not wielding a weapon, he’s stalking his comrades with a camera trying to catch them “being heroic” for a video he plans to send home to Mom.
Southern white boy Josh has formed an unlikely friendship with Private Zarrin Cole, a black woman from New York. Cole spends most of her free time lifting weights, partly to gain the respect of her male counterparts, and partly to defend herself against the ever-present possibility of sexual violence. Lucinda Davis, who is small in stature and a bit of a girly-girl, has undergone an astonishing transformation for this role. Cole is buff and tough and steely in her determination to survive her tour of duty and go to med school back home on the army’s dime. Karl Graboshas plays Andy, a reservist who, despite the uniform, still looks more like the accountant he is back home. He is just hanging on until he can go back to his wife and baby. Omari Newton’s character, Rocky, realizing that a mission his unit is being sent on will almost certainly end in their deaths, tries to convince his friend Trevor (Ralph Prosper) to bail. The moral dilemma is reminiscent of the one in To the Green Fields Beyond, a play set in World War I.
The production begins with stock footage from the mean streets of Baghdad being projected onto three screens. Other elements of the staging—the live feed from Josh’s camera, the entrances and exits through the audience, help create the sense that we are in the middle of the hell that is war. Credit also goes to the authentic looking costumes, as well as evocative sound and lighting.
Maghanoy’s script is at its best when it portrays the boredom of daily life in camp offset by the constant threat of danger. These are young people who’ve seen buildings, vehicles and people blown up just a few feet away. Like trapped animals, they are in pure survival mode.
In the storyline involving Newton’s character, Maghanoy goes too far, not because there is any horror you can’t imagine happening in this context, but because there are horrors that can’t be portrayed convincingly on stage. Certain incidents might actually be more chilling if they were only described.
With Gas, Maghanoy has given us a play that tells a specific story about one conflict that becomes a universal comment on the nature of war. Do not miss this show.
Gas, to Nov. 18 at Bain St-Michel
(5300 st-dominique), $20/$15,
(514) 987-1774, ext. 104, or