Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blood and GIfts **

J.T. Rogers' play about American policy in Afghanistan during the 1980's, now at the Mitzi E. Newhouse,  has much to admire: a fine cast, Michael Yeargan's elegantly simple set, Catharine Zuber's costumes, Bartlett Sher's smooth direction, a few terrific scenes, and, most of all, an important subject. Why is it then that I didn't like it more? Perhaps it's because watching anything that depends for some of its impact on the wisdom of hindsight makes me a bit uncomfortable, because it's too easy for the audience to feel smug and superior. Perhaps it's because the attempt to flesh out the private lives of the leading characters seemed half-hearted. Perhaps it's because its arrival in New York now a year after "The Great Game"(for which a 20-minute version was written, but omitted in New York) seems almost superfluous. Nevertheless, it is a worthy attempt to dramatize complicated events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Washington. The focus is on James Warnock (Jeremy Davidson, who I thought shouted more than necessary), the CIA field operative in Pakistan, and his dealings with his Russian counterpart (the fine Michael Aronov); the longtime MI6 man in town (the always excellent Jefferson Mays), Warnock's liaison in the ISI (the believable Gabriel Ruiz); Abdullah Khan (the credible Bernard White), an Afghan warlord that Warnock trusts; Walter Barnes (the adroit John Procaccino), his CIA boss, and others.  Their complicated interactions flew by in rapid succession for over 2 1/2 hours,  leaving me a bit exhausted. There is one revelation in the final scene that Warnock seemed to be the only person in the entire theater to be surprised by.  I wasn't sure whether this was the playwright's attempt to show how clueless he had been for 10 years or just poor writing.

No comments: