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Anti-War Play Scorches Bu$h And The Case For War

Tim Robbins' black comedy, Embedded is a thinly disguised satire of the US invasion of Iraq.

The play focuses on three elements: enlisted US troops, presidential strategists labeled "the Cabal," and journalists who accept military censorship of their dispatches.
Features DS 10/01/04

Anti-war play scorches Bush and the case for war

Tim Robbins' Embedded takes aim at US troops, presidential strategists and military-controlled media

Pat McDonnell Twair
Special to The Daily Star

LOS ANGELES: Tim Robbins' black comedy, Embedded is a thinly disguised satire of the US invasion of Iraq.

The play focuses on three elements: enlisted US troops, presidential strategists labeled "the Cabal," and journalists who accept military censorship of their dispatches.

There are no revelations during the 82 minutes that Embedded unfolds; in fact, it is a rehash of stories emanating from Iraq since March 19. However, when observed through the prism of Robbins' sarcastic wit, the play makes for big time entertainment and hilarity.

The lobby of the 99-seat Actors Gang Theater is festooned with European and US newspaper photo spreads of the initial days of the war. The contrast is stunning between British dailies, which focus on Iraqi wounded, and US coverage emphasizing "surgical strikes."

The darkened stage opens on two enlisted men bidding farewell to their wives.

"Are you going to miss me," a woman asks her husband who is about to ship off to Gomorrah, a petroleum-producing country ruled by the "Butcher of Babylon."

"With an ache," the sergeant (Brian T. Finney) replies.

We see Private Jen-Jen Ryan (Kaili Holister) bidding farewell to her parents. Her father apologizes that if he'd had a better job, he could have sent her to college instead of her having to enlist in the military to get a job.

An announcement warns the audience that if it has any objections to the message of Embedded, it can go to a designated spot three blocks away and voice its dissent.

"If you don't like what's happening, move to Iran."

The foolish bombasity of the Cabal, ensconced in a Washington "Office of Strategic Plans" reaps the most laughs, beginning with the statement that "to lead by example is cowardly." Wearing grotesque masks, Rum-Rum, Woof, Pearly While, Cove, Dick and Gondola conspire on when and how to launch the war. An attack on the US is proposed, but is put down for being "so in the 70s."

The urgency for a pre-emptive strike is uppermost.

"If we don't get this war started soon," says one, "we'll be competing with NBA playoffs."

Gondola, wearing a necktie and pantsuit, is the only woman in the Cabal. The super-hawks frequently pay homage to Leo Strauss, the political philosopher credited with founding the neoconservative movement.

"Leonardo Strauss. All hail Leo Strauss," they shout to the German-born strategist who blamed liberals for the rise of Adolph Hitler and extolled the usefulness of lies in politics.

The show is stolen by Colonel Hardchannel (V.J. Foster) who curses at, berates and demeans American journalists enduring his boot camp for reporters about to be "embedded" with invading US troops.

Calling his recruits maggot journalists, the gravel-voiced colonel tells his subjects they must submit all reports to him.

"If a Babylonian granary is bombed," he thunders, "it is to be called a poison factory."

Vignettes of each group are rapidly juxtaposed. We see Private Jen-Jen on patrol with her boyfriend, Private Perez (Jay R. Martinez). "Do you think there's depleted uranium in them thar hills?" she asks.

Perez replies that there probably is that's why he's taking extra vitamins, as if to ward off the radioactivity.

As Hardchannel warns embedded reporters not to reveal that it was a wrong turn led to Jen-Jen's capture by the Gomorrans, the Cabal fusses: "We must save Private What's-Her-Name."

In the meantime, Hardchannel encourages embedded photographers to take close-ups of corpses recovered from mass graves, but to avoid taking photos of new Gormorran casualties. The audience also sees Jen-Jen being treated kindly by a British- educated Babylonian doctor. Later, she tells her parents that her captors were kind to her. Her parents assure her she was drugged and doesn't recall the facts.

Jen-Jen laments over the women she shared a tent with. Four of them were single mothers who joined the Army after their welfare payments stopped. One of them was killed; now her children are orphans.

There is nothing new for informed Americans in this scornful examination of George W. Bush's war on Iraq, but it probably will make them feel justified for all the hours spent marching in anti-war demonstrations before March 19. It might even educate some "undecideds" who remain unidentified in a country divided between pro- and anti-Bush proponents.

"Embedded" is Robbins' seventh play. It came about in response to retaliations against him and his partner of 15 years actress Susan Sarandon for speaking out against the war.

In January 2003, Sarandon appeared in 30-second TV spots, stating: "Before our kids start coming home from Iraq in body bags and women and children start dying in Iraq, I need to know what Iraq did to us."

Bush supporters did not like these announcements appearing. They complained and they threatened. They even went on right-wing radio shows and called the pair actor-vists, unpatriotic and traitors.

After the war started, United Way canceled Sarandon's appearance for a conference on women. Days later, Robbins was told not to come with his family for the 15th anniversary of the film Bull Durham at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Just three days later, Robbins was scheduled to speak at the National Press Club in Washington. In that speech, he emphasized that "a chill wind is blowing in this nation. A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio and Clear Channel and Cooperstown: If you oppose this administration, there can and will be ramifications."

Once his script was ready, Robbins decided to debut his polemic Nov. 15 at the Actors Gang Theater  http://www.theactorsgang.com/ which he founded with other UCLA graduates in 1981. Embedded has played to a full house ever since.

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