BOTTOM LINE: A dark and serious play about the ramifications of a war-torn future world.
In the vein of the novels 1984, Anthem and The Giver, War Crimes exposes a futuristic world and the detrimental realities that have unavoidably occurred. The scariest part of this story is that the future itself is not so far away - only eight years, to be exact. This point alone makes the play all the more creepy, as it's unbelievably believable, given the tense religious conflicts currently observed in world relations.
War Crimes sets the scene as the US has receded from its once powerful post to a modest, conflict-laden country, not sure of what it is or where it's going. Several recent terrorist attacks have made daily life volatile and an impending sense of doom is felt consistently. Deep religious clashes between Muslims and Christians have divided America, with little hope for reconciliation.
The president, John Adamson (Hugh Sinclair), is being held accountable for war crimes against Muslims (because the response to the attacks involved secret camps and torture, naturally). The world is putting him on trial at The Hague and not letting him off the hook for what they deem his responsibility. At the same time, a retired schoolteacher named John (Timothy Roselle) wants to take the responsibility, as he worked as a guard at the prison and was responsible for some of the torture (he may or may not have been forced to accept the position and thus, do as instructed). He wants to make things right.
Through video clips of interviews and live scenes involving lawyers, victims and family members, War Crimes uncovers a web of humanity in a confusing, judgmental, deeply heated debate. The story is guided by the sage-like Pieter (David Nelson), a Dutch ghost who can attest to what it's like to see your nation fall from power at the hands of another. He travels in and out of scenes, interacting with the characters and shedding a harsh reality on the drama itself.
The use of mixed media is both interesting and appropriate. Producing company Conflict of Interest has a film niche, and they (and director Sara Wolkowitz) use their expertise here to further develop the plot and expose interviews with characters not seen in the play itself.
Written with a poetic and intellectual hand, War Crimes is heavy and dramatic (the subject matter requires it). There isn't any optimism here - the future looks bleak and the future is soon. I couldn't help but thinking it might be time to actually move to Canada. 90 morose minutes don't always make for a very exciting playgoing experience. The subject matter is immensely interesting (at least, to me), but the storytelling is constantly solemn (there's even a cancer reference). If you're looking for a pick me up, this is not the show for you, however if this subject matter interests you in the slightest, you should see for yourself the story concocted here. It is sure to leave you with much to think about.
(War Crimes is part of the Planet Connections Festivity and plays at the Robert Moss Theatre, 440 Lafayette. Remaining performances are June 12th at 4pm, June 15th at 6:30pm, June 17th at 6:15pm, June 19th at 9pm, and June 20th at 6:30pm. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased at www.planetconnectionsfestivity.com or by calling 866.811.4111. Proceeds from this production benefit AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL.)