Stuff Happens

REVIEW by Willard Manus

The making of war, like the making of sausage, is not a pretty sight. British playwright David Hare validates the maxim in STUFF HAPPENS, now in its American premiere at the Mark Taper Forum. A history play whose title comes from Donald Rumsfeld's infamous remark concerning the looting in post-war Baghdad, STUFF HAPPENS lays bare the motives, strategies and manueverings that led to the decision by the U.S. government to go to war, once again, in Iraq.

Hare mixes verbatim dialogue (taken from public sources) with invented talk in scenes set in a variety of places--the White House's Oval office, war, press and dining rooms; the floor of Congress; the deck of an aircraft carrier; plus many others. Actors impersonate the likes of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell and Rumsfeld. Various British personages are also represented, including Tony Blair (and his wife), Jack Straw, David Manning and Sir Richard Dearlove (head of intelligence). Other key characters include French politicians, the Swedish arms inspector Hans Blix and the UN's inspector general, Kofi Annan.
In all, 22 actors take part in the drama, sometimes all at once, turning STUFF HAPPENS into a pageant, an epic of sorts. "Viewpoints" are part of the mix too--speeches delivered by ordinary people caught up in the Middle East war (soldiers, civilians, mothers, refugees). Hare gives everyone a forum, a chance to sound off. The result is a noisy, sprawling three-hour drama which must have been a nightmare to direct and choreograph. The Taper's artistic director Gordon Davidson took on the challenge and succeeded admirably in it, aided by Ming Cho Lee's ingeniously flexible set, Christopher Akerlind's complex lighting scheme and Jon Gottleib's sound design. The smoothly-flowing production caps Davidson's long reign at the Taper, where he will soon be succeeded by Michael Ritchie.
Davidson's cast, which includes Keith Carradine as Bush, Dakin Mathews as Cheney, Tyrees Allen as Powell, Lorraine Toussaint as Rice, John Michael Higgins as Rumsfeld, Kip Gilman as Wolfowitz and Alan Oppenheimer as Blx, delivered strong performances. There weren't many character nuances to the American portraits, though, but that wasn't the case with the British, notably Julian Sands as Blair, a man tormented by his doubts about the war--and by his moral scruples--but who ultimately lets himself be pressured by Bush into taking up the sword.

Hare also reveals a strong British bias in favor of the Arabs, who are given several impassioned speeches denouncing Sharon and Israel, with nary a rebuttal allowed from the other side. One-sided arguments don't make for a great play.

What's best about STUFF HAPPENS is the way it lifts the lid on the Iraqi war, revealing the lies and deceptions which have been festering in the dark. Call (213) 628-2772 or visit