Ajax in Iraq Review: Jon Sobel, Blogcritics

(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured:Stephen Conrad Moore, Christina Shipp)
Jon Sobel of Blogcritics has reviewed everything since Pretty Theft (except for Jacob’s House, I believe), and so it was great to have him return for his mixed but fair-minded review of Ajax in Iraq. His review touches on some of the exciting challenges of the play, including the fact that there are four prologues to the play before a scene between characters begins the story.

Each of these prologues provides a different angle: Athena lends the timeless mythic viewpoint, the American soldiers (we’ve dubbed them Alpha through Foxtrot) provide the current look from the boots on the ground, Gertrude Bell and the American Captain give the perspective of the decision makers, and Connie Mangus provides the deeply personal memories of a single soldier. The characters of each of these four opening movements have the same essential action: to explain, defend, or come to terms with the actions that led us the to the tragic dual stories at the center of the play.

There a lot of little things we’ve done to make these four dimensions feel like they emerge from a single fabric: for example, the positioning of the soldiers at the end of Alpha-Foxtrot is the same as the positioning of the soldier’s in A.J.’s unit at the end of the play. Athena and the Captain (the actor is now playing the Minister) also overlap their starting positions. This is one of the many ways we built visual and sonic leitmotifs that help incarnate in a simple, visceral way the complex, layered text.

Did it work? It does for me – the four opening movements widen the play’s turf, so that when A.J. and Ajax grapple with their fates, they do so on a terrain that is mythic, contemporary, political, and personal.

Much also hinges upon whether the direct address feels like a lecture, or a scene between the character and the audience. We spent much of our time in rehearsal really reinforcing that conversation with the audience, trying to create the feeling of a living moment being mutually explored.

My favorite quote has both praise and an intriguing criticism:

A few powerful scenes, mostly centered on the ongoing “officer rape” of a female soldier known as AJ (the affecting Christina Shipp) by her male sergeant, hit home, and the impressive Stephen Conrad Moore makes a suitably tragic Ajax. The problem isn’t so much that the mythological and modern-day scenes fail to integrate smoothly; it’s that neither narrative gains any sustained dramatic purchase. The ratio of telling to showing is badly lopsided.

What do you think? I find the telling to be as essential and dramatic an act as the showing, but maybe I wasn’t fully successful in making the direct address feel like a real conversation unfolding between character and audience in the moment.

To chime in with your own two cents (or more), read the whole thing, then get your tickets here, and then leave your own thoughts on the play here.

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