The War Plays

There is a compelling reason why the Lord Chamberlain's office in London banned Edward Bond's Saved in 1965: the Empire did not want to face the accusation that the everyday violence we face in our streets and around the world is of our own making. Luckily, for the time being, such censorship didn't stick. As Bond says, "By any real human terms, our lives are a scandal. Theatre should not be a place where we can escape that truth."

Photo of Melanie Moseley Harmen as Wife and Josh Hartwell as Monster
Melanie Moseley Harmon as Wife
and Josh Hartwell as Monster
In keeping with that spirit, the Promethean Theatre is currently presenting The War Plays, two related one-acts in which Bond explores the horrors of war and the underlying causes of such behavior. In Red, Black, and Ignorant, we are greeted by a monster who speaks to us from a time after a nuclear holocaust, introducing scenes from a life not lived. The second piece, The Tin Can People, explores the behavior of a small group of people who have survived a war fought with neutron bombs.

Although the threat of nuclear annihilation has abated somewhat in the last decade, the root causes of war that Bond identifies throughout this work are as relevant as ever. Principally, it is the dialectic between our animal instinct for self-preservation and its expression through our ego—which, in turn, feeds materialism, consumption, and the juggernaut of capitalist expansion—that is reflected in the dialogue and behaviors of Bond's characters.

Josh Hartwell, as the charred and melted monster, sets the tone with a voice and disposition that comes to us from beyond the grave, questioning what freedom is in a world where everything has its price, choice is a matter of when we sell out, democracy is voting for products, and security overrides freedom.

Later, we watch in horror as the few survivors, well provided with food and shelter, forsake their post-apocalyptic paradise, grow paranoid over deathly contagions, and begin to replicate the anti-social behavior that began the war in the first place.

While Bond's dialogue vacillates between transcendental and polemical, the message is consistent throughout: action must be taken against an out-of-control system. And though such overt exhortations limit the development of all but a few characters, Bond's work nevertheless provides a catharsis by illustrating the sheer tragedy of our situation.

The ensemble, directed by Joel Harmon, generally succeeds with its fleeting moments of personality, only faltering where the simplicity of the propaganda calls for more confrontational or symbolic, agit-prop or mask style, blocking.

At a time when public dissent is belittled by the ever more centralized mass media, Edward Bond's voice remains focused on the stakes here: our survival, our freedom, our future. Promethean Theatre's production of The War Plays runs through June 21st at The Lida Project. 303-321-2486.

Bob Bows


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