Ordinary men, extraordinary circumstances craft decisions that shape history in ‘Blood and Gifts’
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org May 10, 2013 1:10PM
CIA operative James Warnock (Timothy Edward Kane, left) and British operative Simon Craig (Raymond Fox) cross paths in Afghanistan in “Blood and Gifts.” | Photo by Lara Goetsch
‘Blood and Gifts’
When: Through July 28
Where: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington
Info: (773) 281-8463, ext. 6; www.timelinetheatre.com
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission
Updated: June 13, 2013 6:35PM
For years the most nagging question in U.S. foreign policy was this: How did we get into Vietnam? In more recent times, that question (among many, many others) has been replaced by this one: How did we get into Afghanistan, and what kind of dirty double game has been going on in Pakistan?
In “Blood and Gifts,” the ferociously smart, thoroughly excoriating 2011 drama by J.T. Rogers — now receiving a TimeLine Theatre production that is altogether as bloody brilliant as the play itself — those questions are answered in terms that are not only thrillingly dramatic and non-dogmatic, but deeply personal. Rogers knows the political machinations inside and out, but far more importantly, he understands how to bring to life the passions, pride, resentment, fanatacism and egotism that can drive nations, tribes and individuals to the edge of the abyss and beyond.
The two most frequently used words in Rogers’ play are “trust” and “secrets.” More often than not, trust is betrayed. As for secrets, they exist like a set of trick boxes — one lodged inside countless others. And so goes the world.
Rogers’ story, which plays out in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S., unspools between the years 1981 and 1991. It begins in Cold War days as newly-elected President Ronald Reagan re-authorizes Jimmy Carter’s secret shipments of weapons to the mujahedin (radical Islamists), by way of Pakistan, in an effort to undermine the Soviet Union’s influence on the socialist-leaning Afghan government of the time.
To say that those actions come back to bite us is, of course, an understatement. It also must be said that the Soviets’ battering in Afghanistan was one blow on the way to the dissolution of its own empire. But the unintended consequences for the U.S., and much of the rest of the world, are with us at every moment now. The enemy of our enemy was never our friend, as much as we wished to believe otherwise.
Nick Bowling, a director of spectacular skill (aided and abetted by designer Collette Pollard’s inspired warren of steel-framed rooms) has cast the play with actors who consistently make your hair stand up on end. Each is more sensational than the next.
Timothy Edward Kane (with perfect bursts of Russian and Farsi) is the bristlingly tense, fervent, misguided CIA operative who wants to make amends for a blunder in Iran. Kareem Bandealy is the deceptively charming mujahedin leader whose sophistication does not rule out fanatacism, while Behzad Dabu plays his intense young associate comically hooked on Western pop music.
Anish Jethmalani is so authentic as the corrupt Pakistani colonel that he could easily run in this weekend’s election there. Terry Hamilton is ideal as Kane’s prophetic Russian counterpart who tries to save the American from himself. Raymond Fox is the volatile Brit who drinks too much and, like Hamilton, trades revealing personal information with Kane.
Watching this knockout of a production you might have many different thoughts. Mine included the fact that this is the play Tony Kushner tried to write with “Homebody/Kabul,” but Rogers has knocked him right off the cricket field. The other is far more chilling. It is the knowledge that U.S. authorities recently failed once again to listen to the Russians as they warned us about potential terrorists in our midst.