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Iraq play lets audience draw own conclusions

Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2006

One moment, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney is wondering "how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?" Four paragraphs later, Secretary of State Dick Rumsfeld is speculating that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks "might be an opportunity to 'hit' Iraq."

So begins an Eliot Weinberger article, "What I Heard About Iraq," that appeared in the February 2005 London Review. The column was adapted into a reader's theater Hollywood play last fall and is now coming to Juneau for its first production outside of Los Angeles.

"What I Heard About Iraq (A Cry for 5 Voices)" plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Jan. 27-28 and Feb. 3-4, and 3 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, at McPhetres Hall. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors and available at Hearthside Books or Rainy Day Books.

"The play lays out facts, and the audience draws out conclusions, and that's one of the beauties of using theater as a medium for this kind of stimulating discussion," director Deborah Smith said. "I want to use theater as a way for people to enter into these kinds of very reasoned dialogues with no screaming, no yelling.

"And it's particularly poignant now with the Alaska Guard troops returning home (Sunday). We may not agree with the mission they were on, but we're certainly very, very concerned for all of the soldiers over there."

"What I Heard ..." is a fairly static piece. The five actors, dressed in black, sit on a podium while audio and video clips are interspersed with their lines. The play runs about an hour.

Weinberger's article was broken into a long series of paragraphs, all including the phrase "I heard" and quotes or facts about the United States' involvement in Iraq. His story was adapted by playwright Simon Levy and premiered at The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., on Sept. 11, 2005.

Smith's husband, Phil, read about it on the Internet, and the Smiths later talked to Levy about bringing the play to Juneau. The Smiths staged a slightly similar multimedia play, Mark Twain's "War Prayer," in Anchorage in 1970 and Juneau in 1990.

"The Fountain Theatre has been incredibly helpful," Deborah Smith said. "They're very excited about it being done outside of Los Angeles."

The cast includes two women, Ekatrina Oleksa and Susan Wilder, and three military veterans: Bubba Cook, U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Program, 1990-1996; Paul DeSloover, U.S. Air Force Ground Power Service, 1967-1971; and Phil Smith, U.S. Army Medical Corps, 1964-1967. All five actors play a variety of characters.

All six shows will be followed by a "talk back session," moderated by Juneau leaders. Kim Elton, Bruce Botelho, John Pugh, Mary Alice McKeen, George Gress and George Silides will participate.

"We don't have any predetermined agenda of what's going to come out," Smith said. "I hope it's a learning experience. It's an opportunity for people to express how they feel in a very civilized atmosphere. It will help to have dialogue about what we should do. I think everybody is at that point: 'We got ourselves into this, how are we going to get out of it?'"



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