CALL IT PEACE: MEDITATIONS FROM NORTH AMERICA
nytheatre.com review by Terri Galvin
One warning to those who prefer their
theatre light and entertaining as opposed to raw and provocative:
Call It Peace will seriously challenge your comfort zones.
August 15, 2003
At the opening of Anthony Pennino's intense drama, Rich, an American website journalist, is roughly shoved into a squalid Philippine prison cell already occupied by Cal, a Canadian teenage backpacker. Each has been (separately) abducted by anti-American terrorists, and their attempts to cope with the ensuing beatings and privations include half-hearted reassurances, memories of their pasts, (notably, staged flashbacks of Rich's former girlfriend, Abby), and dialogue certain to jolt most Americans even further out of their pre-September 11th complacency.
One casual exchange about fast food and pop divas, for example, concludes with Cal's searing assertion (seemingly inevitable by now) that America's global irresponsibility is "why they steal your planes and fly into your towers." With the audible gasp and odd wince from the audience comes the grudging acknowledgement that had Cal appeared more obviously "Canadian" (read: NOT American), he'd now be reunited with the parents who are currently pleading on television for his safe release.
This intersection of the political with the personal is where Pennino is most compelling, raising questions vaguely disconcerting and potentially devastating: Are we morally responsible for our government's international policies? Do status and possessions define identity? Can suffering, even in the form of unspeakable human brutality, lead to transcendence?
Yet when the dialogue grows extravagant and overly ambitious, invoking everything from Buddhism to Joan of Arc, audience and actors alike grow disconnected from the material. The young, competent cast understandably grapples with these dense, esoteric passages, and Matthew Freeman's occasionally static direction doesn't always enhance the play's episodic structure.
As Rich deteriorates before our eyes, we crave not theoretical debate, but concrete hope that suffering this extreme—and arbitrary—might be dignified with meaning. What little comfort Pennino offers, however, is neither spiritual nor emotional but narrative. "Rich, tell me a story," Cal pleads when his pain is unbearable, and as the reminiscences decline into semi-coherent hallucinations, Rich discovers the sole redemptive path. Ultimately, he alone, not his captors nor "visions," will write the final scene of his life, and no matter how uneasy that makes us, we are grateful to Pennino for granting him that option.