This Is War

Zac Scott and Kate Dion-Richard Credit: Tim Matheson
Zac Scott and Kate Dion-Richard
Credit: Tim Matheson

At The Russian Hall until November 15, 2014

Posted November 14, 2014

Peacekeepers? Not always. Playwright Hannah Moscovitch tears off the scabs to reveal some of what was going on with our troops in Afghanistan. Maybe most of it was good. But some of it was bad.

This Is War is so gritty and in your face that it will make you squirm in your seat. Katrina Darychuk, directing for Rumble Theatre’s Tremors: We Are Young festival, sets this 90-minute one-act upstairs in a tiny room of the Russian Hall where the audience is so close to the actors you can smell them: dusty fatigues, sweat, hormones and blood. Shrouds of grungy sheets hang from the ceiling and before the play opens, we see silhouettes of four soldiers pacing restlessly. And then the interrogation begins, one after the other: Master Corporal Tanya Young (Kate Dion-Richard), Private Johnny Henderson (Zac Scott), Captain Stephen Hughes (Munish Sharma) and Sergeant Chris Anders (Matt Reznek). Individually they come forward, sit within feet of us on a wooden crate under blazing light and respond to questions we don’t hear but can easily intuit. The questions all relate to what happened the night before a joint operation with the Afghanistan Army that went tragically wrong. They are defensive, evasive and defiant. They’ve been through hell, that’s obvious. And they’ve done something shameful.

Kate Dion-Richard and Munish Sharma Credit: Tim Matheson
Kate Dion-Richard and Munish Sharma
Credit: Tim Matheson

While not condoning whatever atrocity they are being accused of (and we do eventually find out what that is), Moscovitch makes a harrowing case for what led up it: orders to shoot small children, a soldier blown to bits beside them, Taliban snipers everywhere, IEDs, a poorly-trained Afghanistan Army with whom joint ops are carried out and heat, always the desert heat of Panjwaii. Added to the constant terror are personal issues – especially sex. (Those who argue that women should not be allowed in the military say Moscovitch makes a potent argument for their exclusion.)

While the setup is rather formulaic – each interrogation going to flashbacks of the same scenes from four different perspectives – the performances are so strong that This Is War takes you there. Dion-Richard is tough-girl Tanya, chin out with defiance but falling apart inside after the shooting of a five-year-old girl; Scott, as Johnny, is so boy-next-door innocent you can only ache for what his character is going through after holding a buddy while he bled out; Sharma is powerful and dangerous as Hughes but even here we understand what motivates him – a wife at home in Hamilton who has taken up with another guy; Reznek’s Anders is kind of nerdy, a gay Christian man out of his depths in the macho world he finds himself in but wanting so desperately to help.

A fascinating effect This Is War has on the audience is that eventually we understand we could be the interrogator. When our troops behave badly, we are shocked and ashamed to be Canadian. How could they do that, we ask. This Is War offers a few answers to how young men and women with the best intentions can go wrong. We really have no idea; PTSD gives us a clue but can never tell the whole story.

Matt Reznek and Kate Dion-Richard Credit: Tim Matheson
Matt Reznek and Kate Dion-Richard
Credit: Tim Matheson

I saw This Is War on November 12. On November 11, attending a Remembrance Day ceremony, I spoke to a young-ish man in uniform. He said he’d signed up to go to Afghanistan but days before his departure; he was hit by a drunk driver and ended up in a coma. I suggested perhaps he was lucky; he was, after all, still alive. But no, he felt he’d missed “the adventure” of a lifetime.

Adventure. How quickly we forget.

While the play is a scorcher, the room is cold. Dress warmly.