The Playgoer: Snooze Alarm

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Snooze Alarm

by Brook Stowe

My greatest challenge with this guest blogging thing so far has been getting the right font size. Seems all my colleagues have the right font size but me. I guess I just have to be different, no matter how hard I try to conform. Or maybe I missed class that day. The font/size class. In any event, I'm going with Arial Medium this time, which sounds about as conformist as you can get.

A few words today on a show that just closed. As it seems most everyone else writes about shows when they open, I'll write about them when they close, just to be different. OK, not really. But I do want to say a few words about David Ian Lee's Sleeper, which stopped in for a cup of coffee at the Manhattan Theatre Source -- a mere six performances spread over two weeks -- the last of which was Tuesday night.

Sleeper is a mad kaleidoscope of a play, a mirrored reflection of America under Bush II that playwright Lee slams his fist into, then reassembles the jagged shards into a fractured national portrait of self-destruction, profound loss and, yes, even hope. Using the kidnapping of an American civilian in Afghanistan as its core, Sleeper spreads outward in an interconnected web that covers London, New York, Wisconsin, Arizona, Los Angeles and the south of Florida. All upon a playing space the size of a large shoebox.

American plays about America's presence in the Middle East -- especially since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 -- have been popping up for some time now. By and large, they've grabbed either for the immediate, red meat of revulsion (count the times Lynndie England has made an appearance around town), and/or indulged in hand-wringing indignation and binary agitprop (as a play, Betrayed was a great New Yorker article).

What I found extraordinary about Sleeper was playwright Lee's dissection of the effect of Bush's wars on the collective American psyche, his examination not of the headlines, but of the legacy of those headlines -- how we have become a country that is, as one character puts it, "eating itself alive." Moving beyond the self-flagellation of re-enacting specific American atrocities and incompetence, Lee slices open the very viscera of contemporary America, splaying the effect of eight years of treacherous foreign policy across individual lives as disparate yet interconnected as an HMO director in LA, a talk show host in Miami, and jihadists in Jalalabad.

Writing with admirable confidence and a strong grasp of theatricality and language, Lee doesn't pause to explain or instruct. You either know what's going on in the world, or you get left behind. In scope and execution, Sleeper is a journey into Kushner country, and one I'm hoping will find another, much longer run here in town soon.

Back on Monday ...

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