Enduring Freedom

Anders Lustgarten
Finborough Theatre
(2008)

Production photo

August in the metropolis and where are the big name critics? In Edinburgh, of course, which leaves a thin contingent to review Anders Lustgarten's beautifully written, compact, ironically titled, new 9/11 play, Enduring Freedom, part of the doughty Finborough's playwrights season (August - November 2008: "Four new plays by playwrights discovered and nurtured by The Finborough Theatre"). A new play opening when eyes are diverted shows supreme confidence in its stable of new writers on the Finborough's part.

The strain of enduring grief (the loss of their son in the 11th. September, 2001 catastrophe and the suffocating loss of innocence) puts a strain on the marriage of New Jersey couple Susan and Tom, she a Democrat, he a blue collar Republican - a fireman - the irony of that.

Two years later, they are as riven apart as their nation - small lives symbolic of the larger canvas. Tom (doubting Thomas) is still bitter and questioning, whilst Susan, who finds solace in patriotism, has moved on. He can't: his government has betrayed him; his friends have pulled away, and 'Mad Dog', a radio shock jock, has abused him on air and given out his phone number for the 'patriots' to call a 'traitor'.

Such was the febrile atmosphere when good Americans found themselves hated and under attack. We've seen and read plenty about that. Not least Donald Rumsfeld's Operation Enduring Freedom But seven years later where is the promised justice and freedom? " to preserve freedom we gotta take freedom away "

Their grief obscenely hijacked and manipulated by the nation and their government - "grief feels like fear" - Tom is angry and confused, but childless Hanna Schneider who has lost her husband seeks a gentler resolution - no more anger, no more violence.

The solidarity of collective grieving, of pulling together in the face of the enemy, makes for strange bedfellows - there's the Park Attendant whose pot-bellied pig had a heart attack, and Hanna's sister-in-law who treats herself to a new bag as a comfort present; there's the exploiting congresswoman, the well-meaning conservative friends, and, by contrast, a funny caricature of a bitchy insensitively ironic Englishwoman who reckons they had it coming.

Grief lightened by humour: there have to be jokes, that's how one copes, but I'm not sure what Lustgarten is trying to show that hasn't been shown before. America is still in the dock with its head on the block.

A nation misled by its leaders; a people, its freedoms compromised, taken in by the call to patriotism, Enduring Freedom, though making the political personal, follows in the footsteps of several post-9/11 political plays: verbatim drama Guantanamo: "Honour Bound To Defend Freedom", David Hare's Stuff Happens, but more especially Stephen Sewell's epically titled Myth, Propaganda & Disaster In Nazi Germany & Contemporary America (2004 Orange Tree production), which highlighted "certain cultural similarities" between 1930s Germany and contemporary America - and the Kafkaesque effect of the Patriot Act.

A well-constructed if somewhat schematic 90-minute play, which would benefit from being played straight through without an interval (though the sauna temperature in the Finborough necessitated it), Enduring Freedom (director Roland Jaquarello) has great dialogue and a talented creative crew.

Vanessa Hawkins's simple monochrome set of a black and white Jasper Johns style American flag, its colours bleeding, defines and encapsulates the play's mood. This 'patriotic' metaphor (a succinct interpretation of the playwright's point of view), constructed of pallet boxes which come apart to serve as household furniture and bowling alley, makes effective use of Finborough's space, and Gabriel Phillips-Sanchez's film noir crepuscular lighting (these are dark times) draws the viewer in, whilst David Sharrock's choice of scene-change-supporting songs and George W Bush's voiceover eloquently underlines Lustgarten's political point. It crossed my mind that it was a film-in-waiting - intimate, close-up acting.

The acting is top notch from a cast of five playing ten roles. Lisa Eichhorn and Vincent Riotta as the disorientated tragic couple are affecting. Charlie Roe shows off his acting and vocal range in three supporting roles as Tom's colleague and best friend, gravel-voiced foul-mouthed 'Mad Dog', and Park Attendant. Fiz Marcus demonstrates dignity in sorrow as Hanna, and Hilary Clintonesque poise as the Republican congresswoman; and husky-voiced Anna Savva with a flick of a new hairstyle brings wit to her sarcastic Brit, her selfish sister-in-law, and concerned friend.

Reviewer: Vera Liber