THE WRONG: David Hare drama of the run-up to the Iraq war

"A country's leader is the country's own fault." This is one of the last lines in David Hare's "Stuff Happens," and there's no question in the playwright's mind that it applies as much to the United States as it did to Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in charge. This is a play about gov-ernment failures - in leadership, moral principles, and compassion. It's a play about arrogance and self-interest. If you are a fan of the current administration, it's not for you.

If you believe serious mistakes have been made in American foreign policy over the past six years, this is a play that will fill in many facts you might have missed in making that assessment. What Hare has done is to provide a chronology of events leading up to 9/11 and culminating in our attack on Iraq. It's not a pretty picture.

All the major players, and even some minor ones, are here, mouthing words that they actu-ally spoke over the years or that Hare imagined they might have spoken in the sanctuaries of the Oval Office, Camp David, the War Room and No. 10 Downing Street when plans were being made (or failed to be made) and egos were on steroids.

Despite its sharp political com-mentary, it is a play and not a polemic, though as a play it has some inherent weaknesses. Few characters grow and have dimension outside the political/diplomatic arena. Except for Colin Powell, they never waver from their convictions, and the arrogance that brought the country to this war is as strong at the end as it was at the beginning.

Although Hare's politi-cal position is quite clear, he has included some testimo-ny that gives support to those who be-lieved that an attack on Iraq was an imper-ative. A journalist describes Sad-dam's villainy, asks if we apply one standard for ourselves, an-other for others. Later on comes more testimony about the horrors of life under Saddam.

Forty years ago another presi-dent, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was the subject of a theatrical smack in the face. He was satirized in the highly popular off-Broadway production "Mac-Bird." Johnson was the stuff from which tragic heroes could be made. Johnson had the ability to wrestle with the consequences of his actions, and take personal responsibility for them.

As Hare makes clear, our present president is driven by religious dedication. He is a vessel of the Lord, carrying out His divine will. That conviction doesn't lead to much self-reflection. As Bush himself says in the play, "My faith frees me ... to enjoy life and not worry about what's going to happen."

That difference makes "Stuff Happens" more sterile than was "MacBird." There's no character development here. Only Colin Powell and Tony Blair struggle emotionally. The White House gang and their colleagues in other branch-es know what they want from beginning to end and never question the rightness of their actions.

That's not to say that President Bush is made to look like a puppet in the hands of Cheney, Rumsfield and Wolfowitz. On the contrary, as played by R. Hamilton Wright, Bush appears to be a thoughtful listener and master power broker. ACT even chose to have him speak in the accent that we are told he reserves for private encounters - less Texas-twangy, more upper-class educated.

Director Victor Pappas' decision not to give Tony Blair the proper British public-school accent didn't work as well for me. But the insights into the interplay between London and D.C. are fascinating and show how Bush et al. outmaneuvered the prime minister. Poor Mr. Blair, for all his faults, appears to be a man of principle, out to alleviate pain and suffering. He was no match for the D.C. mob with their supposed divine mandate.

Charles Dumas allows us to see the agony of Colin Powell. He is presented as a man of integrity, one who is aware of the misstatements, falsified information and bad judgments. Try as he might to give the president a more balanced assessment of the situation and the potential ramifications of a preemptive attack on Iraq, he is ignored. When he accurately predicts all that has come to pass, nobody listens. The predators smell blood and they want to get to the feast. Through Dumas' fine acting, we feel Powell's anger, frustration and final defeat as he goes to make his infamous speech at the United Nations.

Michael Winters as Dick Cheney has a sneer on his face throughout the evening. You wouldn't want to go duck hunting with the Cheney that Winters portrays. David Pichette as Dominique de Villepin is as smooth, elegant and wily a diplomat as you'll ever meet. His hard bargains and refusals are so graciously put forward you almost think he's giving you a present. Overall the cast is good, and director Pappas deserves praise for orchestrating it all.

The historical saga ends with President Bush in his fly-boy costume stepping onto the deck of the U.S.S. Lincoln in front of the mission accomplished banner. Thus is completed this tale of how we became involved in an unwinnable war. It's to Hare's credit that he can make these facts with which we are so familiar into such a riveting theater piece.

'Stuff Happens'
ACT Theatre, 700 Union St.
Tuesday-Sunday through July 22
Tickets: $10-$54, 292-7676 or

[[In-content Ad]]