In a dark, musty theatre on St. Laurent is Truth and Treason; a new play about the War on Terror in Iraq that is not only engrossing but will leave you thinking once the lights come up.
The play opens when a young Iraqi girl is shot by a soldier at a United States checkpoint, while looking for her father. Her Canadian mother, Nahla wants to cross the security line to see her, as she in critical condition and needs a transfusion of rare O-negative blood. The girl’s only blood match is her father, who was jailed by Sadam Hussein and is still considered a terrorist by the Americans. Captain Ed Alston, in charge of the checkpoint, agrees to help Nahla, and allow the blood transfusion until he is overruled by his commanding officer, Commander Hektor Frank.
The girl dies in American custody and her body is not released to her parents.
This is the initial premise of a much more convoluted plot about the rebuilding of Iraq, the corruption of the American military, and the quest for truth and justice in a war zone.
Truth and Treason on its own would not have been anywhere near as impressive if not for its amazing set and lighting. The set is framed by three walls that contain many sliding doors covered in dark green army tarps. They allow for the action to move around from top to bottom, and left to right, revealing balconies and doorways that bring the set to life and keeps the audience visually entertained. The woman sitting alongside me agreed: “the sets are absolutely amazing,” she whispered to her husband.
The lighting was also magnificent. In a jail scene, the lighting was somber yet harsh, while in an explosion, the lights blasted onto the audience, making you feel more like a participant and less like an observer.
The actors had a few glitches on opening night, possibly from nerves, or because some lunatic in the front row would not stop laughing inappropriately in the opening scene. Thankfully, he was promptly silenced by angry theatergoers sitting around him.
The standout of the cast was Stratford veteran David Francis as the cunningly corrupt Commander Frank. From his hardy military growl, to his gruff expression, Francis was the military centric commander the audience expected him to be. The rest of the cast could not match his intensity, but were capable of carrying a show of such difficult topic matter. A standout among them was Abdelghafour Elaaziz as the jailed Iraqi speech writer whose skillfully subdued rage balanced the energetic antics of the other actors.
The major problem with the play was that it ran a bit long, and some scenes attempted to be stylish but came off as silly. For instance, when Captain Alston feels guilty about letting the Iraqi girl die under his watch, all the other actors run from one side of the stage to the other pulling and pushing him to show the torment he is going through. Unfortunately, with too few actors moving to and fro, the scene fell flat and looked incomplete.
With such timely and divisive issues at play, playwright and artistic director Rahul Varma decided to have panel discussions following certain performances of his play. This gives a chance for the audience to partake in dialogue that makes Truth and Treason not only an enjoyable play but an important forum for open dialogue.
Truth and Treason plays at the Monument National (1182 St. Laurent) from now until Sept. 19. Tickets are $15 for students and $22 for Adults.