A writer known for her work on CBC's Afghanada takes some of her wartime themes to the stage.
There are few people Hannah Moscovitch’s age who have written enough exceptional plays to justify a mini-festival of their work, but the 34-year-old playwright has one of those scheduled at Tarragon Theatre. Three of her plays—Other People’s Children, Little One, and In This World—will run in February and March.
She’s kept herself busy in other mediums, as well. Outside of theatre, Moscovitch is probably best known for her writing on Afghanada, the CBC radio soap about a Canadian infantry platoon serving in Afghanistan. The show was a victim of last year’s CBC cuts. After it wrapped production, Moscovitch still had some ideas. They fuel the trauma-focused interviews in one of her plays, on now at Tarragon: This is War.
Four soldiers, being interviewed by a silent, offstage journalist, seem initially reluctant to give anything more than the most straightforward of answers. As part of a culture that places an emphasis on operational security, they’re sometimes openly hostile. Captain Stephen Hughes (Ari Cohen), assuming his questioner has a pacifistic bent, states flatly about the Afghani, “They were the enemy. If they were dead, we’d done our job.” Master Corporal Tanya Young (Lisa Berry) and injuried Private Jonny Henderson (Ian Lake) are similarly defensive when it comes to their combat experience. But the soldiers gradually begin to open up.
The effect is heightened by the close-quarters set, designed by Camellia Koo. It cocoons the actors and audience in camoflage netting, and seems nearly stifling (we wondered if the heat had been nudged up in the Tarragon’s Extra Space).
The story Moscovitch weaves doesn’t conceal the truth, Rashomon-style. In flashbacks, we see everything the soldiers are trying to conceal from their persistent unseen interviewer. All of them have something they’re hiding: clandestine trysts (more common among CF members than both the brass and public probably think) and lapses in judgement—but, most of all, pain, suffering, and guilt.
Perhaps most interesting of all is Sergio Di Zio’s medic, Sergeant Chris Anders. Anders is differentiated in several ways from the others. Most significantly, he’s not a combatant. His stress derives from his responsibility to manage the stresses of others. He has to make the call when a soldier crosses that nebulous line between being under pressure, and being about to crack from it.
A strong case could be made that none of the four characters in This is War should still be in combat, and that repeated and prolonged tours have compromised their abilities to make rational decisions. But they have a (terrible) job to do, an ingrained sense of duty, and the shared sense that despite all they’ve suffered, they may still be better able to do the job than anyone else. Moscovitch makes this point clearly: in a theatre of war, where soldiers are frequently forced to suppress normal instincts and desires, everyone is injured, though not necessarily physically.