Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Black Watch


By Gregory Burke. Dir. John Tiffany. St. Ann's Warehouse. (CLOSED)

This visceral multimedia production from the National Theater of Scotland, about the Scottish army regiment's storied history right up to its Pyhrric tours of duty in Irag, returns for an extended run a year after its acclaimed Brooklyn run a year ago. Last year's reviews, most of re-gathered here alongside a few fresh ones, are almost unanimously ecstatic.

New York Observer A+
(John Heilpern) Put simply, it's essential that you see Black Watch at Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse: It's among the most compelling theater pieces you could wish to see. And weep for, in a sense. The production from Scotland's National Theatre is a magnificent one, and its awesome reality and humaneness will overwhelm you. Black Watch is the first docudrama about war I've seen that successfully turns reportage into art.

New York Times A+
(Ben Brantley) Black Watch is a necessary reminder of the transporting power that is unique to theater...In portraying the tours of duty in Iraq of members of the Black Watch, a some 300-year-old regiment with a gloriously storied past, this production dissolves traditional boundaries of time and form. It seems to exist at the same moment both in intimate close-up...and in wide-angle historical perspective that encompasses the generations of Black Watch soldiers who have come before these...This exquisitely sustained double vision makes "Black Watch" one of the most richly human works of art to have emerged from this long-lived war.

NY Sun A+
(Eric Grode) Gregory Burke, who compiled his riveting text from interviews with Black Watch soldiers, and director John Tiffany have created a collage as intricate and as codified as a tapestry. In terms of sheer imagination, their destabilizing and magnificent work of stagecraft, which is being presented by the National Theatre of Scotland, is unlikely to be bested by any play -- perhaps by any dramatic work of any genre -- about the war in Iraq.

The Journal News A+
(Jacques Le Sourd) This phantasmagorical one-act play, which unfolds in St. Ann's long trough of an acting space between two halves of the audience, builds an emotional momentum whose impact manages to sneak up on you...There is music, there is traditional dance, there is the iconic heraldry and elegance of this highly respected military unit, combined with sounds and images, from several television screens, of filmed bombardments, media reports and political bloviators...The soaring, beautiful "Black Watch" gets to the heart of the matter like nothing else has.

Time Out NY A
(David Cote) The senses-pummeling drama...doesn't settle for easy pacifist positions; it assumes that countries need soldiers and that war is a necessary evil. But this passionate, gritty homage to the craft of battle draws the line at the imperialist quagmire of Iraq...The sheer physical bravado and endurance of the ten-man ensemble is exhilarating...My only regret--and it's a selfishly nationalist one--is that our boys didn't think of this first.

Newsday A
(Linda Winer) An indelible and moving experience. Directed by John Tiffany, the cast...take us under the surface by juxtaposing the war-is-hell content with the ancient stirrings of folk songs and dance, with lyric push-pull of bodies leaning and tumbling helplessly over one another. When the men read letters from home, their hands shape their longings in a strange, silent ballet.

Entertainment Weekly A
(Melissa Rose Barnardo) To call it a war play would be reductive; dubbing it an event is underselling it...It illustrates a very straightforward story (soldiers tell writer about their experiences in Iraq) with an ingenious fusion of ancient theatrical traditions (song, dance, mime) and 21st-century technology (projections, TV screens).

Back Stage A
(David Sheward) Playing in an arena setting in the cavernous St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, there is nothing like it on or off Broadway. Scenes of epic theatre reminiscent of Brecht smash up against kitchen-sink realistic moments, musical numbers alternate with video collages, and deafening explosions follow dreamlike ballets...The most affecting picture of war this side of Apocalypse Now.

Variety A
(Sam Thielman) Both a hymn to soldiers and an indictment of the foolishness that makes their jobs necessary, shot through with odd, affecting grace notes of music and dance. And beneath it all, the low, unmistakably Scottish hum that signals an inescapable call to duty.

New York A-
(Jeremy McCarter) Fast, loud, funny, and profane, Black Watch is the kind of play that even its subjects might enjoy...The combination of interviews, invented scenes, and the occasional song doesn't fit into any of the neat little boxes in which war stories usually reside. Though the play shows great affection for the troops, Burke makes no effort to prettify their faults; while it makes the bungling of the Iraq war vividly clear, it never suggests that these guys are innocents led to slaughter--a depiction that they would take as an insult.

NJ Star-Ledger A-
(Michael Sommers) An engrossing semi-documentary drama of unusual artistry...Those who enjoy the Military Channel should leap off their couches to catch this exciting show. Anybody wanting to witness bold, thoughtful theater, period, should see it, too. Creative staging and an exceptionally gutsy performance style give this saga a blazing vitality.

NY Post B+
(Frank Scheck) John Tiffany's staging - which has the action performed in a long, narrow playing area, flanked by the audience on both sides - makes vivid use of deafening sound effects, blinding lighting and video projection, an approach well suited to the ultimately nightmarish subject matter. Thankfully, there are also heavy doses of mordant wit in the men's often profane and abusive interactions...a theatrical experience not easily forgotten.

Wall Street Journal C+
(Terry Teachout) The soldiers in the play are presented not as recognizable individuals but as mostly indistinguishable cogs in the military machine. Moreover, all of them are without exception utterly cynical about the Iraq war...Nor does it help that Black Watch's portrayal of modern war is aestheticized and prettified almost beyond recognition...Black Watch, for all its undeniable artfulness, comes across like a food fight at a tea party.

NY Observer A+ 14; NY Times A+ 14; NY Sun A+ 14; Journal News A+ 14; Time Out NY A 13; Newsday A 13; Entertainment Weekly A 13; Back Stage A 13; Variety A 13; New York A- 12; NJ Star-Ledger A- 12; NY Post B+ 11; WSJ C+ 8; TOTAL: 164 / 13 = 12.61 (A)

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