Is Now the Time for a Play about the War in Iraq?

By: Ron Brynaert

Everone knows that comedy is mostly about timing. If you hit upon the right nerve (is a funny bone a nerve?) at the right time then, usually, you don't even have to be original or even marginally funny to win laughs. The audience laughs just at the reference (i.e. "How about Michael Jackson?") and may fall into hysterics at a gifted comic's pause.

Of course the other element in comedy is distance. The funniest jokes might fall flat if the audience remains in grief or on edge (it might be too soon for "Now that John Ritter's dead, can we agree that three's a crowd?"). We may be past the days of "tarring and feathering", but if somebody decides to throw something at you, chances are it won't be a cake or a pie (which used to, at least, be good for laughs). So, it's important to be able to recognize this.

I started writing my play, "The Rules of Embedment or Why Are We Back In Iraq?", in June, a few days after a costume-wearing George Dubya Bush flew on to a carrier with a banner reading "Mission Accomplished." I knew Iraq War II was far from over - no matter what the Media was babbling - but I thought my take on the situation warranted the risk.

Instead of carrying a sign on the street, I wanted to deliver my message within an entertaining context (much safer, these days, the way cops treat protestors now).

My play combines drama and satire, sometimes simultaneously. During the readings with different audiences my play's had, I've discovered that what some people find funny, other people gasp at. In my play, a young Mexican-American Marine [Santana] discusses his wish to be naturalized by the government. In response, a Gulf War veteran Sergeant [Drudge] mutters, "If you die, maybe they'll make you [a citizen] one." One audience became silent, the other roared. When I wrote that line I was aiming for tragic but I'll gladly accept the guffaws.

It's one thing to write about history after it's mostly been done and said. But my play had to be shaped to withstand any future developments. I believe (fingers crossed with duct tape) I achieved this by sharply defining the timeframe of the play. It's not about what happened or even what really happened. It's about what we knew when it happened then. I based my play on the opinions and beliefs that were in vogue in order to show how it all came to pass. Instead of focussing my sights on the Administration, I targetted the Media and how they sold the American public a preventive invasion (one way was by referring to it as preemptive).

Every day I hear new news I still sometimes worry that all my hard work will have gone to waste (though if tomorrow Bush/Cheney gets impeached, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc. go to jail, and our troops come home I won't mind). But so far my plan has worked. Saddam's capture caused me to pause, but that still didn't change "what happened then" (plus I still don't trust anything they say, for all we really know Saddam may have died in 1999 like it was rumoured) and never will.

Are there enough people out there aching to see a work like mine at this juncture? We'll see (or, hopefully, you'll see).

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