Theatre Review: This is War

Sergio Di Zio and Lisa Berry in This is War (Image: Cylla von Tiedemann)

When I heard that a new play was going to be presented by the very gifted Hannah Moscovitch, my ears perked up like a rabbit’s. She is Canada’s most talented playwright of the past few years (East of Berlin, The Russian Play, The Children’s Republic), and I treasure her work. Having seen her latest play, This is War, the day after it opened, I cannot heartily recommend it, as I have all of her others. In fact, I can hardly recommend it at all.

True, Moscovitch has become respected for her writing in the CBC radio war drama series Afghanada, which I have admittedly not followed. And seeing that the director is my former student at York University, the usually inspired Richard Rose (who is also Tarragon’s artistic director), I was counting the hours until the curtain rose.

But driving home from the Tarragon Theatre, which has witnessed so many brilliant works over its decades-long tenure as one of this country’s major presenters of superior, original Canadian drama, I kept thinking sad thoughts: “Well, Tennessee Williams rarely reached the heights he achieved with A Streetcar Named Desire. And most of Edward Albee’s plays since the early Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were pretty dreary and uninspired...”

Still, the superior set and costume designer, Camellia Koo, has done something striking: we enter through camouflage netting, making us feel as if we are present with these four soldiers during their deadly military work in that thankless, unwinnable war in Afghanistan. But in spite of the always-excellent Ari Cohen, and the stunningly-beautiful and gifted Lisa Berry (the actors who play the other two soldiers, Ian Lake and Sergio Di Zio, are also fine), the writing was unable to build my interest in these confused, obscene and angry soldiers.

Their predicament is relatively simple: they hate this war, they miss their homes and they find themselves shooting children by mistake. Canada’s war in Afghanistan was hardly pleasant, with the stifling heat, generally ungrateful locals and cloudy reasons for fighting for it.

There are occasionally some bright moments (how could there not be, in a play by Hannah Moscovitch?), such as several scenes re-enacted from different soldiers’ points of view, the sharp repetition of dialogue and the way the individual soldiers often stare straight into the eyes of the audience as they speak, as if being interrogated after their service was over.

Moscovitch continues to be one of our most promising young playwrights. But I sense that This is War will not be listed among her major achievements. It just didn’t work for me.

This is War, Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. 416-531-1827. Now - Feb. 3

Allan Gould is Post City Magazines’ theatre critic. He has a PhD in English and Theatre from York University and has written over 40 books. His writing has appeared in Toronto Life, Chatelaine, enRoute, Canadian Business, Good Times and the Financial Post. He is married, with two children. Aside from his family, his major passions are theatre and film, because they enrich life with pleasure and meaning.

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