BETRAYED at the Aurora Theatre of Berkeley
Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
The Aurora Theatre Company of Berkeley is currently staging BETRAYED, written by George Packer and directed by Robin Stanton.
As the cliché goes, "It works at so many levels."
It is difficult watch BETRAYED without your own thoughts and questions jogging along side the thoughts of the writer as unveiled by his characters huddled in the Green Zone of Baghdad.
Firstly, the title: BETRAYED: who exactly was betrayed by the US involvement in Iraq?
Was it our former regional ally in the covert war against Iran: Saddam Hussein?
It was confirmed by both the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the US Senate Banking Committee, that the US Department of Commerce had approved the shipping of dual-use biological agents to Iraq.
Biological agents included Bacillus Anthracis (a.k.a. anthrax: identified by the Pentagon as a key part of the Iraqi biological warfare program) as well as Clostridium botulinum, Histoplasma capsulatum, Brucella melitensis and Clostridium perfringens.
Was it the American people, duped by the Bush-Cheney neo-con clique?
Was it the Sunni bureaucracy: the nearly secular government of Iraq?
Was it the American soldiers, betrayed by the very people they liberated, or who to this date, remain unclear as to the exact mission and its utility in Iraq?
The Army said 2008 might have been another record year for suicides among active-duty soldiers: the final count could surpass a record of 115 suicides set in 2007.
Was it the veterans, returned home, from the Iraq War?
In the absence of sufficient psychiatric care, veterans, aged 20 through 24, who have served during the war on terror had the highest suicide rate among all veterans: it is estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age: the suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.
For the purpose of his play, George Packer seems to be focused on three Iraqi interpreters or translators who serve at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
University of Manchester Professor and Sociologist Emrys Peters often cited a Bedouin aphorism which sums up the pickle the Iraqi interpreters quickly find themselves: "I against my brother; I and my brother against my cousin; I and my brother and my cousin against the world."
Once Saddam Hussein was toppled, the theory of concentric rings of loyalty reasserted itself: Americans reverted back to being foreign invaders.
Every Arab should have, by virtue of his or her DNA, been pitted against the occupational army.
Iraqis on the American payroll were traitors and spies.
Special pleading (a "spurious argumentation where a position in a dispute introduces favorable details or excludes unfavorable details by alleging a need to apply additional considerations without proper criticism of these considerations themselves") would argue that Iraqis working for the US are the good guys.
Could the same argument be made for collaborators in cahoots with German Nazis, Italian Fascists, Russian Communists, Japanese Imperialists, Wall Street Mortgage Brokers?
George Packer deftly side-steps "good guy, bad guy" discussions and flatly avers that the US Embassy in Baghdad owed translators either safety within Iraq or safe passage out of Iraq.
They got neither.
Keith Burkland gives an outstanding performance as the careerist US Ambassador in Baghdad, blithely and amorally putting the US image and the delusional policies of George W. Bush well ahead of the plight of three Iraqi interpreters.
Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari (Adnan), Denmo Ibrahim (Intisar) and Amir Sharafeh (Laith) superbly play the interpreters—shaking in their jodhpurs—as they realize they have become enemies of their people by assisting American forces struggling to stabilize an increasingly fractious coalition and chimerical democracy in Iraq.
Alex Moggridge (Prescott) is compelling as he plays a mid-level state department bureaucrat who is centrifuged by conflicting loyalties and interests in a situation spinning madly and violently out of control.
The show is a must for every Paint Ball General, Armchair Liberal and Sidewalk Politician.
BETRAYED is a feast of guilt and despair: an expose on the intransigence of inescapable loyalty one has to culture, religion, tribe and traditions: it is a true antidote to post inaugural euphoria.
BETRAYED is Richard Dawkins SELFISH GENE THEORY brought to life by the rivers of Babylon and on stage at Berkeley.
If you enjoy cognitive dissonance and Gordian Knots, this play is your ticket to hours of after the curtain falls reverberations.
For tickets surf on over to www.auroratheatre.org or call 510-843-4822.
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