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December 11th, 2008

Black Watch

For months now, everybody we know has been telling us we need to go to Black Watch. It's wonderful, they say. It's what you go to the theatre to experience.

It's about Scottish soldiers in Iraq.

Okay. I don't much like war plays, but I trust my friends. They have great taste--that's one reason I like them. So we get tickets and head out to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, hooking up at the last minute with jodi_davis who was in town on business.

There's a warning about strong language, loud noises, and strobe lights, also the fact that there's no intermission and if you have to leave the theatre, you have to be escorted and you can't go back in. So the lines to the restrooms were considerable. We, however, had Thought of That Before We Left the Restaurant, so went and found our seats--all of them excellent.

The warning was apt. The language was raw, the noises were deafening, the strobe lights blinding. The production did its level best to reproduce, insofar as that is possible in a comfortable theatre in a fashionable section of New York, the experience of soldiers in a theatre of war.

We watched 10 soldiers of the Black Watch endure mortar fire and suicide bombers, dream (and talk) of sex and drink, fight and joke and sing regimental songs, and slowly become more and more aware that they weren't actually the good guys in this war. The strong language was soldier language--swearing peppered with acronyms and salted with slang that gradually became comprehensible as we learned more about camp life. It was essentially the language of inarticulate men who were neither willing nor able to talk about what they felt or even what they thought. The most moving scene in the play was when the men got letters from home. Each man read his letter, threw it to the ground, then went into an ASL (or BSL, I guess, since they were all Scots) response, gazing down at the letter, hands moving eloquently, faces still and inward, two or three phrases over and over again, each man signing something different. One by one they ran off, and then it was back to shouting and mortar blasts and synonyms for (mostly) female genitalia.

Having said that, it seems odd to say it was a beautifully written play, but it was. They had the script on sale outside, and I don't know why we didn't buy it. Knocked for an emotional loop, I guess. We certainly didn't talk much, apart from a "Wow" or two and Ellen saying that it was going to take her a day to recover. Yes, it was that powerful--a word I despise, but in this case, just exactly the right one, since the play was about (among other things) power and strength, individual, communal, and national, physical and moral. Also about identity, community, and several other things. And it wasn't sentimental at all, not even a little bit--not about war, not about male bonding, not even about death.

Any insight out there about why so many war movies and plays are so sentimental? it's something I've noticed and often wondered about.


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