Posted: October 21, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on life beyond jobs and careers.]

The Cost of War

On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending a great play entitled Black Watch, which is a co-production by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the National Theater of Scotland.  The play was held in the gym of the Broadway Armory in Edgewater, a unique space that offered freedom of movement unavailable on a more traditional stage.

Scenes in the play rotate between a bar in which an interviewer talks to veterans of Scotland’s Black Watch regiment and scenes that take place in Iraq, where the soldiers fought.  The bar scenes set up what happened in Iraq.  Events that the veterans could not tell the interviewer are acted out, so the audience gets the feel of what could not be spoken.  This technique is very moving, especially for those of us who have never been in the military, much less a war zone.

The play is clearly critical of what was going on Iraq.  At the same, it shows the courage of the young men of Black Watch.  Many of the play’s most impressive moments are communicated through dance.  In one scene, the main character, a trooper named Campbell, is dressed, undressed, and re-dressed to mark the conflicts the regiment has served in since the 18th century.  It’s a funny scene, but it underscores a tradition of courage and service.

One constant in the play is explosions.  Mortars, IEDs, and suicide bombers are a constant reality while the soldiers are in Iraq, and stories of explosions and their consequences pepper the often bawdy exchanges with the hapless interviewer.  The play conveys a terror that the U.S media too often ignored.  We hear about veterans struggling with brain injuries, PTSD, and suicide.  This play brings home the terror they faced both in the field and at home.

Toward the end of the play, the regiment’s sergeant, a soldier, an interpreter are killed by a suicide bomber.  The other soldiers watch as the victims’ bodies are falling in a twisting, slow motion fashion that puts us next to the soldiers who have to watch their comrades die.  This scene is followed by a final “battle” in which the regiment pursues the killers.  However, its not a traditional battle, since only the Black Watch is depicted on stage.  The conflict is played out as dance in which the soldier form lines and march in formation, one man falling, and another soldier lifting him to march again.  Chaos is played off against order, showing the soldiers’ discipline and the hell that must be battle.

Black Watch is an anti-war play that leaves us with great respect for those who fight, even when we disagree with the logic behind the war.  The play shows how the living often carry pain that the dead are spared.  It is a beautiful production about war’s terror, immediate and ongoing.  Three cheers to Shakespeare Theater for bring his wonderful production to Chicago for a second time.