For up-to-the-minute analysis of the quagmire in Iraq, go to the Public Theater, where David Hare updates his play Stuff Happens as events warrant. But for a provocative explanation of how the U.S. and the U.K. lost their moral compass, go three blocks south to the Culture Project’s Guardians. A hit at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Peter Morris’s spare play—a pair of monologues, really—is every bit as potent as its neighbor, if not more, with only one-tenth as many characters. Morris focuses on two sets of unseen photographs: real ones, such as those taken at Abu Ghraib, and staged ones, such as those published in the Daily Mirror that forced its editor to resign.
In her 2004 essay about Abu Ghraib, “Regarding the Torture of Others,” Susan Sontag wrote, “The photographs are us.” But Morris explores a sexual component to the pictures that Sontag barely hinted at. An unnamed Lynndie England character (Katherine Moennig) joins the army, the only ticket out of her dead-end hometown, and finds first love in a sadistic officer with a photo fetish. And at a London tabloid not unlike the Mirror, a reporter (Lee Pace) finds the ticket to his dream job as a broadsheet columnist through a submissive soldier he meets in a Dantean s/m club. “Journalism is pornography,” he quips.
Excuses like “I was only following orders” and “Give the readers what they want” become moral imperatives, and democracies are betrayed by the same institutions that have pledged to defend them. That Pace and Moennig find the humanity in such inhuman characters is nothing short of remarkable.