Park Theatre, London ****
Runs: 65 mins without interval
Review of perf seen Aug 1, 2019:
There is much in Bianca Bagatourian’s The Time Of Our Lies that reminded me of George Brant’s Grounded, the play that told the story an American woman drone pilot and in so doing brought home the dehumanising effect of modern warfare on those shielded by distance but not by the after-effects of sensing the violence they were inflicting on other human beings. Bagatourian’s powerful amalgam of verbatim text and recollections of the American historian and human rights activist, Howard Zinn (first seen in 2014 at Edinburgh), creates much the same crise of conscience in its main character, whose role as a bombardier in WWII turned out to be one of the most radicalising moments of his life.
Zinn, originally from a poor Jewish background in Brooklyn, died in 2010. He went on to write the best-selling A People’s History of the United States and The Time Of Our Lies pays homage to Zinn’s life-long commitment to fighting for peace and civil and human rights.
And History, said Zinn, was and is the bulwark and one of the few defences against a lying government.
`If you don’t know history, it is as if you were born yesterday, anybody in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it. When the President says we must go to war for liberty and democracy, or because we’re in danger, if people had some history behind them, they would know how many times presidents have announced to the nation the very same thing.’
Zinn’s words anchor an evening that is interspersed with extracts by other testimonies including a devastating account of the My Lai massacre of innocent victims by American soldiers in 1968 and a no less emotional speech `Am I Not a Woman’ in connection with African-Americans and voting rights.
In Ché Walker’s dynamic, scarlet splashed, viscerally staged production, The Time of Our Lies is nothing if not a battle cry against those who govern the USA and its militaristic and foreign policies, from South American to Afghanistan and the Philippines – one especially poignant now when it seems gripped by the darkest of anti-democratic forces, by lies and `fake news’.
I can’t remember a play or production that carried such anti-American feeling or passion against its own government since the anti-Vietnam era when a slew of plays arrived from the States written by young Americans either vehemently against the war or veterans who had like Siegfried Sassoon in WWI, come to question the whole ethos and rationale of war and those who promoted it.
Zinn says in the play he remained anti-war – though not a pacifist – and the excerpts Armenian Bagatourian has chosen from his writings together with Walker’s terrific ensemble being kitted out either in tee-shirts or combats, gives an extra edge to a production whose heart is equally rooted in socialism and the fight for workers’ rights and the down-trodden.
Indeed a speech by the legendary Latino American Union organiser, Cesar Chavez on resistance rounds off a production whose internationalism is threaded through every fibre of its being, from its multicultural cast to traditional folk songs sung in Hebrew, Farsi, Vietnamese and Spanish, with other incidental music composed by Sheila Atim.
All in all then a potent, moving rallying cry that carries Amnesty, Susan Sarandon and Zinn’s daughter’s approval – if one, this time carrying an unforeseen burden: its main actor, Daniel Benzali withdrew leaving an impressive Martina Laird to step in at the last minute.
The press night performance was delivered by her, reading from the script – heroic in the circumstances and, taking nothing away from her, simply highlighting the immense contribution given to this particular production by Walker’s ensemble of Alvaro Flores, Lanna Joffrey, Trang Le, Claire Lebowitz King, Anais Lone and Jessye Romeo. They deserve every plaudit, every one of them.
The Time Of Our Lies
by Bianca Bagatourian
Claire Lebowitz King
Director: Ché Walker
Composer: Sheila Atim
Choreographer: Bonnie Oddie
Lighting Designer: Arnim Freiss
Video Composer: Gamal Chasten
Video Choreographer: Maureen Fleming
Producer: Bianca Bagatourian, Jeff Kalousdian, Paul Sanoian
First performance of The Time Of Our Lies at Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, London, July 30, 2019. Runs to Aug 10, 2019
Review published on this website, Aug 3, 2019.
NB Corrections made to this review 10/8/19 regarding a final speech made by Cesar Chavez and not Hugo Chavez. Also songs specified not generalised from South America and South East Asia.