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Sunday, October 4, 2015

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New play examines Canada’s role in Afghanistan

Tags: Arts
Hannah Moscovitch

Hannah Moscovitch’s play about Canada’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan premieres at Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space starting Jan.3.

This is War, directed by artistic director Richard Rose, takes place in 2008, when Canadian Forces are holding Panjwaii, the most volatile region in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. 

Capt. Stephen Hughes, played by Ari Cohen, is constantly looking out for the next threat. The play takes place over 24 hours and offers four perspectives from three soldiers and a medic who are interviewed by an unseen journalist about a critical event.

“Obviously it is very hard to write when you haven’t actually been to Afghanistan or to war yourself, and you really can’t know what it’s like to be in combat,” Moscovitch says. “I had good people around me who were those people, who I could respectfully ask those questions of.”

She says that there were a number of events that lead to writing this play. 

“I read an editorial in the Globe and Mail by J. Kelly Nestruck, the theatre critic. He was ranting that our Canadian playwrights were not writing about Afghanistan and the fact we were at war there in 2008. We were heavily involved and our mission was being extended.  

 “Then, the theatre department at the Banff Centre in Alberta put out a call for submission for their 75th anniversary for commissions for plays, and I thought I should submit, on the off chance that one of the superstars of Canadian theatre wasn’t planning to submit.  In the end of course they did – Daniel McIvor and Colleen Murphy were both commissioned along with me.”

Those two events happened while she was working on the CBC hit radio drama Afghanada, which put her in the privileged position of having a lot of access to war journalists and returning troops coming home from tours in the region, including her high school sweetheart, who served in Panjwaii and is currently in Kabul.

Although the play is going to the United States, Moscovitch says she wrote it with a Canadian audience in mind and her desire to show us what this Canadian experience was like.

She says she hopes the play will evoke both empathy for Canadian soldiers and an understanding of the complexity of the situation.

Members of the military, including a sergeant who was a consultant to the production, have been invited to the play.  Moscovitch says she’s terrified, because they’re the most critical audience.

Moscovitch often writes explicitly about Jewish culture and Jewish events, as is evident in her Governor General’s Award-nominated play East of Berlin and another work, The Children’s Republic. 

“Being Jewish, I like plays that ask complex questions and contain situations where no right are wrong are clear, where good and evil are both possible and in the same action. I am a grandchild of the Holocaust and all the moral uncertainty of the Holocaust.  I tend to like to write about characters that are extremely traumatized and fight moral complexity.”

This Is War is very loosely inspired by two controversial incidents that actually happened during Canada’s highest point of Canadian engagement in the Afghanistan conflict.

The Ottawa-born Moscovitch, who’s lived in Toronto since 2001, is a multi-award winner and Canada’s most produced young playwright. This is War will be produced in both Chicago and Winnipeg after its Toronto run.

The Tarragon playwright-in-residence also has a film project in development with Rhombus Films and House of Film and is writing plays for theatre companies such as the Stratford Festival, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Volcano Theatre, 2b theatre, Studio 180 Theatre, and the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, as well as four plays this year for the Tarragon Theatre – In This World, This is War, Little One and Other People’s Children – as part of a mini-festival celebrating her work. 

She’s also working on a stage adaptation of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s internationally acclaimed, multi-award-winning Oprah Book Club novel Fall On Your Knees. 

On a personal note, she recently became engaged to 2b theatre’s artistic director, Christian Barry. The couple plans to marry in the summer of 2014.  

This is War runs until Feb.3. For tickets www. Tarragontheatre.com


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