By Beatrice Williams-Rude
A powerful play, “The International,” by Tim Ruddy, has returned to the New York stage.
This three-character piece debuted in April for a limited run at The Cell, where it received such accolades that it was brought back, this time to the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on Theatre Row. The title refers not to the Communist anthem, but rather to an international organization’s peacekeepers.
“The International” looks at a massacre from three perspectives: an American, living in California, watching it on television; an international peacekeeper from Holland, attempting to avert it; and a woman, somewhere in Eastern Europe, who is experiencing it. The three characters never meet. The play is structured with a series of monologues, and the performers give bravura performances.
For us in the audience, it’s like seeing a disaster in slow motion.
The woman, Irene, describes the tiny town in which she lives and how the neighbors rely on one another: “it’s not a commune,” we just help each other. She wears a headscarf and long dress and appears to be Muslim. Yet she refers to much drunkenness and consumption of alcohol and alcohol is forbidden to Muslims.
But her religion and ethnicity are irrelevant. She is the universal victim, the helpless civilian trapped in a war not of her making.
The International, Hans, a Dutch would-be protector of the local populace, notes that he’s grossly understaffed, poorly equipped and in a bureaucratic strait jacket. The chain of command is nothing short of byzantine.
The American, Dave, a sometimes sculptor who has just lost his job as a truck driver, is hard-pressed for cash. His small apartment is overrun with relatives whose goal is to go to Disneyland, which he can’t afford. So his time is spent watching TV, as do various kin from time to time. The progress of the marauding army is featured 24/7. He is goaded into betting on the outcome.
Irene describes the waiting—the townspeople having been assured they had international protection—then, in the absence of help, the flight.
Hans frantically attempts to avert what’s coming demanding to know of the conquerors “Where are you taking these people?” and trying to stop the proceedings, without success. He desperately calls his superiors for help, a tortuous climb up the chain of command.
Irene describes the separating – the men from the women, the abuse of the latter, the murder of the former.
This play was inspired by the Balkan War 1992-1995, but ethnic and religious conflict has been a factor in the Balkans since 839, yes, 839, and revenge a mantra.
Part of the genius of Tim Ruddy is that he manages to inject humor into the grim proceedings.
“The International” has been sensitively and intelligently directed by Christopher Randolph, no easy task given the limitations imposed by the structure. The sterling case consists of Carey Van Driest, who makes us love Irene; Timothy Carter, who makes us understand the frustrations of Hans; and Ted Schneider, who brings an everyman perspective. Brilliant performances by all three. It would be helpful if,when the men lower their voices for dramatic effect, they don’t get so pianissimo that precious lines are lost.
The minimalist set is by James Maloof; lighting by Derek Van Heel; costumes by Tristan Raines; sound design by Benjamin Furiga.
“The International” will run at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street in Manhattan through August 2. (Would that it would also play in the East 40s, at UN Plaza.)
212 – 279-4200 www.ticketcentral.com (Running time is 80 minutes.)
Photos by GARLIA CORNELIA JONES-LY