I have been in The Tarragon Extra Space Theatre enough times to be very familiar with it but, when I walked into Hannah Moscovitch’s This is War last night, I was transported into a completely unrecognizable place. I’m tempted to gush over the design details but I don’t really want to spoil it for anyone. To sum up, let’s just say, I felt like I was at war.
The play centers around an incident experienced by four Canadian soldiers who are stationed in Panjwaii. Throughout the play, they each testify, using direct address, only to reveal the dirty details of what went on during their mission. Interwoven into this testimony is a number of scenes from camp which take place the night before as well as the day of the mission.
The mix between direct address and active play is an interesting choice considering the dramatic tension that the piece tries to accomplish. I wonder if anyone else found the direct address halting. I found it a little hard to engage with the drama and the details of war that were being told to me in testimony. Instead, my focus became on the love-triangle that was revealed to the audience through active play. As a result, I couldn’t get a grip on the stakes that the characters were under.
On top of that, at times Moscovitch does an absolutely incredible job instilling fear in the audience. This fear was robbed from me when the characters began testifying. The testimony made me feel like I was in control but, meanwhile, the action made me scared. I’m not sure if this contradiction was intended. It was absolutely a roller coaster, which was exciting. I wonder, however, if I would have been more engaged with the stakes of the characters if the direct address had been compromised and there was more action to watch.
Of course, either way, Moscovitch is funny, intelligent and always engaging. The characters all had very clear trajectories that were complicated by their circumstances. I really enjoyed the intricacies of the script and the details that Moscovitch infused into the dialogue. I couldn’t believe the depth of her descriptions of war, the war stories she wrote, and the resulting emotional entanglements. It was fantastic, heartbreaking and a great script.
On top of that, the production was perfectly tailored to the writing. I, again, don’t want to give anything away but the construction of that space blew me away. Every design detail made me feel like I was actually at war. Just to indulge, at one point, a character walked on stage in full army gear and I actually thought he had just come from a barrack. Really.
Meanwhile, the performers were, not surprisingly, brilliant.
This is War was experiential. I absolutely felt affected by the play. Three of Hanna’s plays will be featured at The Tarragon this year. If you don’t get out to see This is War try to experience one of her earlier works if you can.