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'Stuff Happens' by David Hare
Last uploaded : Sunday 5th Sep 2004 at 12:35
Contributed by : The Editor


I attended the first preview of Sir David Hare's new play, 'Stuff Happens,' directed by Nicholas Hytner at the Olivier Theatre in London's National Theatre complex this week.

Because I have been mightily impressed when US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld holds his often-high-voltage press briefings for the past three years, I was expecting a play that possessed, at the very least, some of Rummy's humour. Alas, this was about as funny as a wake. Our British Cabinet ministers have the collective charisma and wit of a squashed cabbage compared to that of the American Pentagon chief, but our writers are always first to demonise him.

Hare's one-man show, 'Via Dolorosa,' about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was filled with rich irony and humour at the expense of both sides and was so compelling that I saw it twice.

Not so with 'Stuff Happens.' Aside from my dismay that a writing and directing team as eminent as Hare and Hytner could get wrong some basic facts like Rumsfeld's alma mater (the script announces he attended University of Chicago when in fact he attended Princeton with distinction), the play unfolds like an evening around a dinner table with angry and irrational Left-wingers fixating on the evils of PNAC. (I happen to think the Project for a New American Century was astonishingly prescient in 1998 when its leadership warned Bill Clinton of the threat of international terrorism emanating from the dictatorships of the Middle East.) One of the traits of the Left is an irrational hatred of people like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice when in fact these people (as reactionary as they may be in the eyes of many) have been students of world affairs and terrorism for decades and in others' eyes are not the personification of evil. How many large terror attacks have there been on the US mainland since 2001?

What disappoints me about 'Stuff Happens' is that I expected better from a man as sophisticated as David Hare, whose perception of human nature should have risen above the usual 'they are all baddies!' rhetoric from the Independent and Guardian. There are far too many long transcripts of meetings amongst Powell, Tenet, Rumsfeld, Bush and Rice, some of which are actually rather dated. The ultimate irony is that the energetic, even thoughtful figure of Bush portrayed by Alex Jennings and of a fiery Colin Powell by Joe Morton are so appealing that one wonders why one would want Kerry as a replacement!

Aside from the fact that Dermot Crowley's interpretation is not at all vintage Rummy it seems unlikely the Defence Secretary would speak like a Christian evangelist. In fact, Rumsfeld is a better entertainer than Crowley if one has bothered to watch one of his vintage briefings. Emphasis is given to his love for defence contractors, but in reality Rumsfeld made a shrewd point of working only in pharma (low cost AIDS drug development when he was head of Gilead Sciences) and fibre optics/broadband in the event he was ever appointed Secretary of Defence again after having served under Jerry Ford. Incidentally, Rummy, unlike Bush, does not say 'eye rack ' or 'eye ran'. Notwithstanding all of this, the picture that has become an iconic relic for critics of the Administration, of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam in 1983 will, like the photograph of Lynndie England holding an Iraqi prisoner on a leash, speak for itself for eternity in the eyes of critics of the Bush team.

I worry about the line '.After 9/11 America changed. It just became stupider.' Lest we forget the USA has given the world Mark Twain; Ernest Hemingway; Leonard Bernstein; Rodgers and Hammerstein; Spielberg; Bill Gates; Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller not to mention Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin etc etc The USA is not a stupid country. No-one asked the 9,370 GIs who died at Omaha Beach or the 10,000 slain in the Hurtgen Forest for their IQs.

Were I a 'swing voter' Republican in the audience veering towards John Kerry, 'Stuff Happens' would not change my viewpoint. The occasional swipes at Ariel Sharon are tiresome. Jewish Democrat voters have to grudgingly admit that Bush has been a steadfast friend to Israel; his father and James Baker were not perceived as such.

A polemic about 'the Zionists' by an angry and humourless Palestinian woman at the opening of Act Two to an audience already indoctrinated by the BBC, Independent and Guardian about the 100% virtuous Islamic 'warriors' and the 100% appalling 'Zionist imperialists' rolled off me without effect as news of hundreds of children murdered by Islamic 'warriors' in Russia reached all of us that evening.

What is so bitterly disappointing about this new and much-hyped play is that Hare had an opportunity to bring to life the much-hated figures of the Iraq War but instead reinforced the stereotypes generated in the world of Michael Moore. For example, a portly Caucasian actor walks onstage as 'Yo yo Ma' (one of the weirder bits of casting I have seen in recent years) and has a totally inscrutable discussion with Dr Rice. Unless one is a Washington insider, one would not know that Yo Yo Ma was accompanied by the classical pianist Condi Rice at a Kennedy Centre recital. Had anyone involved in this production bothered to learn something about these people, they would discovered that they have complex personal and intellectual lives. (Is it not fascinating that Paul Wolfowitz's lady is reputedly a Muslim') That would have made some real theatre. If British network television can air a film about the 'human side' of the 9/11 hijackers, why can't we also see the human side of the Bush team?


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