By Beatrice Williams-Rude
The title of this new work, Who’s Your Baghdaddy? Or How I Started the Iraq War, says it all.
A musical comedy—yes, comedy, how else can such current tragedy, avoidable tragedy, be addressed?
This immersive theater piece is presented as a support group for people who started the Iraq War. The audience is seated in an elongated circle with the cast members sitting among them. The facilitator attempts to get the various participants to explain their roles and come to grips with their feelings of guilt. But in order to do so they must first admit their guilt.
This is an ensemble effort and all eight members are excellent: Brennan Caldwell, Jason Collins, Bob O’Hearne, Brandon Esponiza; Olli Haaskivi, Nehal Joshi, Claire Neumann and Larisa Oleynik. In addition to being actors, singers and dancers, they seem to be acrobats as well, leaping on chairs and the center table.
This work deals with the now infamous Curveball stream of misinformation that was embraced and became the fig leaf that justified our military action in Iraq. As the support group leader attempts to induce the various participants to open up, some refuse, one even walks out, but the leader assures the others he will return, and he does.
The leit motif is “It would have happened anyway” (with or without the actions of those in the group) and this, in fact, is the case. There are laughs aplenty, but the humor is black.
Who’s Your Baghdaddy was written by Marshall Pailet and A.D. Penedo based on the screenplay by J.T. Allen. Marshall Pailet is also the director. This splendid team captured the horrible absurdity of our Iraq misadventure. The producers are Charlie Fink and Lee Seymour.
The event’s tone is set by a quote from Oscar Wilde put in the program by Artistic Director Charlie Fink: “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.”
Yes the humor is bitter; how could it be otherwise? This is a noisy work but gets quiet at the end when the toll is presented: US fatalities: 4,491; US casualties: 52,317; Iraqi civilian fatalities: 500,000; Iraqis displaced internally: 2 million; Iraqi refugees living in other countries: 1.9 million.
While this estimable effort makes the authors’ points, Who’s Your Baghdaddy? would work better were it tighter and shorter.
Who’s Your Baghdaddy? Or How I Started the Iraq War is playing at the Actors Temple Theatre, a landmarked building that is an active Jewish place of worship located at 339 West 47th Street in Manhattan. Tickets may be purchased via Telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200. It will run through November 22.