Political play opens at Dreamwell

BY RILEY UBBEN | APRIL 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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For his portrayal of George W. Bush, Justin Braden doesn’t want to take the usual approach.

“Everyone’s seen the Will Farrell version, and you want to stay as far away from that as possible, I think,” he said. “There are lots of jokes in [the play], but we’re taking it seriously, because it’s a serious thing.”

Braden will play the former president in Dreamwell Theatre’s production of Stuff Happens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and April 15 and 16 at the Universalist Unitarian Society, 10 S. Gilbert St. Admission is $8 for students, $10 for seniors, and $12 for the general public.

Written by British playwright David Hare, the play takes a look at the events leading up to the Iraq war. Such a topic could easily lend itself to mockery of the Bush administration, but director Ryan Foizey decided to portray the characters as real people.

“It’d be so easy to make these characters monsters,” he said. “It’s so easy to say Bush did this, what a horrible guy, what a horrible president, but what it comes down to is that he’s a human being, and [the war] is something that he really, really believes.”

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The play attempts to make each scene as realistic as possible, often drawing from speeches given by members of the Bush administration following 9/11. Rob Merritt, the actor playing Tony Blair, found this approach a refreshing contrast from the caricatured portrayals often found in movies and on television.

“It’s really impressive how well researched the play is,” he said. “When I was doing character research for Tony Blair, some of the speeches that [he] has in the play I found on YouTube — word for word, they’re there in the script.”

Not all of the dialogue is on the record, however. To keep things interesting and to fill in some of the blanks, the play inevitably has to take some creative liberties. Merritt said this allows the audience to think about the parts of the story that weren’t made available to the public.

“Nobody knows what Bush said to Colin Powell in their brief meeting before the war happened,” said Merritt. “Everybody does know that before that, [Powell was] pushing for peace, and then after that, suddenly in public [he’s] like, ‘Here’s a bottle of anthrax.’ Something had to have happened behind the scenes that got [him] from [one] point to [another].”

The private discussions in the script often get heated as different personalities clash in the wake of an extremely important decision.

“In this show, it’s very apparent that there’s this camaraderie between Rice and Colin Powell,” Foizey said. “It’s left to the audience to wonder: Is that camaraderie because they’re both African American? Is it because she believes what he believes? Is it because they share common interest? These are things that are explored through this play that were not explored through the media.”

None of the cast members deny that the play may have its own judgment about the decision the Bush administration came to, but Nicole Reedy, who plays the part of Condoleezza Rice, believes that audience members are left to make their own call.

“It doesn’t force an opinion on you,” she said. “Obviously, there’s something being said there, but I think for the most part, you’re left to make up your own mind.”

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