Tonight I went to Northern Light Theatre's DUST at the PCL Theatre. It's setting is harsh - Abu Ghraib Prison - and we walk in knowing how the story ends because we have seen it play out in the media. So it is not about the typical beginning, middle and end. It is mostly about the middle - the ugly middle of torture and abuse of prisoners and the justification and shame in committing that abuse. It's not an easy play to watch. We see the pictures (the famous pictures), well, parts of them for a few moments here and there. Perhaps it's better that we cannot see all of them and not for very long. As I said, it's not an easy play to watch but it tries to give insight as to how people could do the things that were done. We are consoled (?) that one of them clearly does not like doing what is done while the other seems to feel justified because "it is allowed". An interesting and frightening question - What will people do when they are simply allowed to do anything? Will they choose a higher moral path? Or will they descend to the levels that the pictures show?
I loved the set design - it's stunning and elegant. Mirrors line the upstage wall wherein the audience occasionally sees themselves watching passively, much like the Army Commanders and the world did at the time. An added benefit is that you see two versions of the play - the real and the reflection and in that reflection an upstage expression cannot hide. It was fascinating.
Both actors (Monice Peter and Paul Sutherland) are strong, playing very different characters - one awkward and unsure, the other full of confidence and bravado. Peter, in particular, as Jenny gives one of the most natural stage performances I have ever seen. She is magnificent even in owning the abhorrent qualities of her character. She makes the character so likable you feel conflicted about how you feel about her. I really hope to see her in more things. Sutherland, as Jonathan, does a fine job contrasting her performance. You feel for him and his need to escape.
It was a thought provoking night. I think about the ending, or the lack of one and it feels ominous. If there is no ending, does that mean this kind of abuse will always happen? Does that mean that otherwise good people will become abusers if it is allowed? We must not let it be allowed... I guess that's it. We must be better than that.