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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 runs at Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space until Feb. 3, 2013.

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. 

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, I could respectfully ask those questions of.”

She says there were a number of events that led to writing this play, which is loosely inspired by two controversial incidents that happened during Canada’s highest point of engagement in the Afghanistan conflict.

“I read an editorial in the Globe and Mail by J. Kelly Nestruck, the theatre critic,” she explains. “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.”

All this happened while she was working on the CBC hit radio drama Afghanada, which put her in the privileged position of having a lot of resources, with war journalists and returning troops coming home from tours in the region, including her high school sweetheart, a military man, 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 our soldiers and an understanding of the complexity of the situation.

Members of the military, including a sergeant who acted as a consultant to the production, have been invited to the play. Moscovitch says she’s terrified because they are 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 situations, where no right or 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.”

The Ottawa-born writer, 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 the Toronto run.

The Tarragon playwright-in-residence also has a film project in development with Rhombus Film and House of Film and is writing plays for theatre companies including the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Volcano Theatre, 2b theatre, Studio 180 Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, as well 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 an adaptation of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s internationally acclaimed award-winning Oprah Book Club novel, Fall On Your Knees, for the stage.

On a personal note, she recently became engaged to 2b theatre’s artistic director, Christian Barry, and plans to marry during the summer of 2014. It’s no wonder this prolific playwright has no time for hobbies.

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