Canadian photojournalist Paul Watson won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News photography in 1994, for a photo of a dead American soldier, Sgt. William David Cleveland, taken in Somalia the year before. The interaction with Cleveland haunted Watson for the rest of his career, which took him to war zones in Kosovo, Mosul, and Kabul. When he published a memoir, “Where War Lives” in in 2007, writer Dan O’Brien heard Watson interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, and he reached out to the photojournalist. The Body of an American, a co-production of Primary Stages in New York, and Hartford Stage, tells the tale of their relationship as seen through the eyes of playwright Dan O’Brien.
The Body of An American is New York-bound, and sure to be a hot ticket on the New York theatre scene, so see it in Hartford before the end of the month. It’s a provocative portrait of the impact of war on the journalists covering it, and a powerhouse of a drama (which has already received awards for its playwright). O’Brien’s script is really well-enhanced by a great set designed by Richard Hoover, sharp lighting by Lap Chi Chu, and brilliant projections and sound by Alex Basco Koch and Darren L. West respectively. Jo Bonney stages the drama to showcase O’Brien’s rhythmic dialogue, and two finely-defined performances by Michael Crane as playwright Dan O’Brien and Michael Cumpsty as photojournalist Paul Watson. The two actors, each with multi-layered characters, work and move together as intricately as two dancers in a pas de deux, and Bonney’s staging captures every beat and pause.
Both actors may look familiar to area theatregoers. Michael Crane has appeared at Long Wharf, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Berkshire Theatre Group. Michael Cumpsty, a former member of the StageWest company in Springfield, was a Tony Award nominee for End of The Rainbow and has been on TV’s The Good Wife and L.A. Law. Individually, they give well-rendered performances; together, they’re a tour-de-force.
Initially, playwright and photojournalist communicate by email, instant message, and phone, When they finally meet, in the Arctic, where Watson is covering the region as the world’s first multimedia journalist covering that part of the world, they bond, but not without difficulty.
We don’t get enough opportunities to see a bold play by an accomplished playwright, that asks difficult questions about the impacts experienced by serious journalists covering tough subjects in challenging places. The Body of an American will challenge audiences, and hopefully, like me, will leave the theatre with some fresh perspectives, for more entertainment after this real good moment, you can visit this site, click here.
Hartford Stage, in association with Primary Stages, presents The Body of an American by Dan O’Brien. Directed by Jo Bonney. Scenic design by Richard Hoover. Costume design by Ilona Somogyi. Lighting design by Lap Chi Chu. Sound design by Darron L. West. Projections design by Alex Basco Koch. Cast: Michael Crane (Dan) and Michael Cumpsty (Paul). through Jannuary 31. For tickets: 860-527-5151 or www.hartfordstage.org
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio.