The Playgoer: Caryl Churchill's "prophetic powers"

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Caryl Churchill's "prophetic powers"

Kudos to Jeremy McCarter for using his new perch as "cultural critic" at Newsweek to--when asked to name a play to represent "arts and culture in the Bush era"--champion Caryl Churchill's Far Away over other more kneejerk options.

As you may know, the play (which came to New York Theatre Workshop in 2002 under Steven Daldry's direction) was about torture.

When the play reached New York in 2002, the final scene's vision of all-out war offered a twisted but true-to-life reflection of the paranoia we were feeling in those post-9/11 days. Six years later it speaks well of Churchill's prophetic powers that the other scenes now seem just as timely. The nighttime beatings that Joan witnesses (and the sorry excuses her aunt supplies) anticipate waterboarding, "stress positions," rendition. The hellish parade of hat-wearing prisoners now seems a grisly metaphor for the way that soldiers toyed—sometimes fatally—with inmates at Abu Ghraib.

Yet the real resonance of Churchill's play lies deeper than in eerie parallels. The arc of Joan's story reminds us how easy it is to forget the value of human life, how quickly we can become dehumanized ourselves. By the last scene, Joan tosses off the news that on her way to Harper's she's killed "two cats and a child under 5."
Well said. Still, I wonder if McCarter's editors at Newsweek--like those at NYT lately--have put the kibosh on the T-word itself in reference to US policies?

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