In the fine tradition of Annie, Peanuts, and even Doonesbury, Austin-based theater collective the Rude Mechs debuts a strip-to-stage adaptation of David Rees’s clip-art comic Get Your War On. This “historical docudrama presentation” wings us through the last half-decade, from those heady days of angst and anthrax in October 2001 to the execution-on-YouTube of the present.
Five actors, attired in office casual, sip from coffee mugs, sort file folders, and man a series of overhead projectors as they cheerily and profanely dissect current events. As the attack on Afghanistan launches, one worker enthuses, “Oh yeah! Operation: Enduring Freedom is in the house!” “Oh yeah,” echoes his colleague, “Operation: Enduring Our Freedom is in the motherfucking house! Operation: Enduring Our Freedom to Bomb the Living Fuck out of You is in the house!”
A manically brisk 70 minutes, Operation: Get Your War On is to be enjoyed rather than endured. Rees’s comics, faultlessly realized by the cast and director Shawn Sides, are antic, paranoiac, and trenchant. The script shows characters freaking out both about terrorism itself and the costs—economic and social—that the “War on Terror” exacts. Though Rees reserves most of his scorn for the Bush administration, he’s willing to ridicule himself, too. One character suggests pledging fealty to whoever is dispensing anthrax: “Now can I please just forswear alcohol and denounce Israel or whatever so I can fucking open my credit card offers without thinking my organs are gonna turn inside-out?”
As with many a great satirist, there’s a core of idealism lurking within Rees, usually voiced in this production by the handsome and frequently irate Jason Liebrecht. The script affords Liebrecht a chance to voice not only censure, but also heartache and desire. He talks of “raising six glasses every night, just to get drunk enough to love this country like I did as a kid; without feeling like it’s using me.” Clearly Rees’s language isn’t the only thing uncensored. It’s these surprising moments of unguarded emotion that render Get Your War On more than just a good (OK, a very good) laugh. Rarely has political theater so enmeshed the sardonic and sincere as when Liebrecht says, “When this is over, the Iraqi people better be the freest fucking people on the face of the earth. They better be freer than me. They better be so fucking free they can fly.”
Of course, as the requests for new troops suggest, this may not be over any time soon. Indeed, as As Yet Thou Art Young and Rash, a version of Euripides’s Suppliants suggests, war was and is ever with us. David Herskovits, the artistic director of Target Margin, premieres this piece as the inauguration of a season devoted to Greek works. Nearly 2,500 years old, Suppliants concerns attempts by the women of Argos to retrieve the bodies of their sons killed in battle. A meditation on loss, warfare, and authority, it resonates fiercely with the present conflict. The technology of battle may have improved, but the sentiments it inspires—bewilderment, anguish, patriotism—remain unchanged.
Herskovits and his five-member cast scoured seven translations of Euripides and the original Greek to arrive at their current script, which places the poetry in contemporary idiom and syntax. This method makes the text familiar but also somewhat estranged. The story, largely unfamiliar, fades amid the vernacular. But perhaps the evaporated plot leaves the emotional contact to resound more strongly. A character says, “The seven mothers./They are all sad because their sons are dead. You know the story.” Indeed, we may not know the particulars of the story, but we recognize their grief. A few millennia on, we’re apparently still young and rash and still ensuring that mothers will have war dead sons to mourn.