Toronto play offers soldier's perspective on Afghan war

CBC

Playwright Hannah Moscovitch has turned her focus to the experiences of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in her new play This is War, now being staged at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre.

It’s an offshoot of the Tarragon playwright-in-resident's work on the CBC Radio drama Afghanada, as well as one specific incident, which Moscovitch won’t reveal to prevent giving away the substance of the play.

Instead, This is War unfolds as four onstage characters — three soldiers and a medic — recount the event to an unseen person. Their stories unveil the kind of quick decisions soldiers must make on the ground. The play is set in 2008, as the Canadian Forces are holding Panjwaii, the most volatile region of Afghanistan.

"They're all speaking to an interviewer or journalist, who you don't see, and they're talking about why that incident occurred," Moscovitch explained to CBC News.

"In some ways, what they're dealing with is how much to talk about and how much to conceal."

Although Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan is almost over, Moscovitch remains interested in trying to convey the experience of Canadian soldiers, who fought a war in a foreign land while people at home debated the morality of their actions.

"I wanted to go right through the interview to the soldiers themselves. It is appropriate — really appropriate — to discuss the politics of war and that's what the media does and that's right," she said.

"For soldiers, it's just a totally apolitical experience: what it's like to live with killing people. Having done a 180 on your moral code for your country — what it's like to have to live with that."

Moscovitch is fascinated by the kind of decisions soldiers make in conflict situations and says she did a lot of research to make sure she understood the real-life incident and to remain respectful to those involved.

The 34-year-old playwright has a rising profile for creating works that look inside exclusive communities, from the children of former Nazis in her play East of Berlin to an orphanage inside the Warsaw Ghetto in The Children’s Republic. Her work on Afghanada gave Moscovitch rare access to the Canadian Forces — access that most writers don’t have. She recalled, for instance, the experience of posing a “rude question” to a sergeant.

"I asked what it's like to kill people and he said 'You make the call you think you can live with in the moment' — and that stayed with me," she said.

This is War stars Lisa Berry, Ari Cohen, Sergio Di Zio and Ian Lake. It is directed by Tarragon Theatre’s artistic director, Richard Rose. It runs until Feb. 3 in Toronto.

Afterward, This is War heads to Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange and then to Chicago.

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