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Monday, October 15, 2012

"The Body of an American" by Dan O'Brien at Portland Center Stage

"The Body of an American" is a play of intersections-the intersection of art and journalism by way of photography, and how they each again intersect with theatre. The play tells the story of playwright Dan O'Brien and war-photographer Tom Watson. Mr.Watson's photograph of a soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu forms the heart of the play.

As William Salyers re-enacts the taking of the photograph, he says the voice of the dead soldier warned him, "if you do this, I will own you forever", and much of the play deals with the truth of that statement. Mr. Watson desperately wishes to exorcise this spirit from his thoughts and dreams, and in the days following the performance I shared the feeling. This is an intense show. All of the elements come together with a common purpose--to burrow deeply into your brain and unnerve you. The starkness of the studio is a well-suited space, and the projections are used effectively, but it was the sound design that made me realize just how far I'd been pulled in.... There's a moment in which Paul describes stepping back to properly compose a photograph, and in the process he steps on the bones of an old woman, upon hearing the crunch I involuntarily let out a truly disgusted groan.....

Paul tells the story of The Pentagon being able to deny an atrocity because he was not able to obtain photographic evidence--proof of the truth--and that is what the play is about most of all. If you are prepared for truth, I recommend that you see "The Body of an American"....

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