A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
 
 
 
 
Stuff Happens

A docudrama, based on actual records and speeches, David Hare’s Stuff Happens takes as its title the response by Donald Rumsfeld when queried about the looting of ancient treasures from the museum in Iraq when the war began.  In its wider context, as the play develops, the remark refers to the disastrous events that followed the invasion.  With twenty-two actors playing some forty characters, this compelling work dramatizes the lead-up to the war, depicting as chief players and decision-makers George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Paul Wolfowitz in the U.S., and Tony Blair and his cabinet and advisers in the U.K.  Minor players on the world stage include the UN Security Council, Hans Blix, and Kofi Annan.  Directed by the National Theatre’s artistic director Nicholas Hytner, the fluid production on the large stage of the Olivier Theatre seats the entire cast onstage at the back, like a chorus, with individuals stepping forward to narrate, comment, or provide the date on which the dramatized event is taking place.  Amid Rumsfeld’s blunt observations like “I’ll tell you what is legitimate: what we do is legitimate,” Bush’s repeated assertions that he is guided by God, and protests by Colin Powell, events involving men in business suits move from formal meetings around a conference table to casual-attire gatherings at Camp David to luncheons and dinners with UN delegates to urge support of military action.

Declaring in the program that this is “a history play,” Mr. Hare is even-handed in his depiction of the two main players, in excellent interpretations by Alex Jennings as President Bush and Nicholas Farrell as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.  The President emerges as warm and congenial; when he seems befuddled by long and complex arguments, Adjoa Andoh’s cool Condoleeza Rice is at his side to interpret.  It is frequently she, not he, who explains his thoughts.  Tony Blair is depicted as sincere and supportive at the beginning, even seizing the opportunity to present a case for war in a dossier based on “raw” intelligence from a single, unconfirmed source.  Even more unbelievable, though not in the play but in the useful program calendar of events (compiled by Dr. Christopher Turner, visiting scholar at Columbia University), is that the second dossier supporting the war was based on material plagiarized from an article by a graduate student in California. Blair becomes more and more desperate as his attempts to forestall military action fail, frantically phoning Bush, but realizing that he must continue to support the U.S, where Cheney (Desmond Barrit) characterizes him as “that preacher on top of a tank.” In an outstanding performance by Joe Morton, the hero of the drama is Colin Powell, the realist in conflict with the fantasists in the cabinet as he pleads the case for diplomacy, with war as a last resort.  As Michael Ignatieff observed in the New York Times, “When fantasy drives planning, chaos results.”  Powell abandons his arguments and capitulates to invasion, becoming a near- tragic figure. Among the comments by unnamed chorus figures who step forward to voice their views is one of the most telling, “From what height of luxury and excess we look down to condemn the exact style in which even a little was given to those who had nothing.” National Theatre website: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk.