While doing research for the upcoming performances of Eve Ensler’s one-act play, The Treatment, director Rich Brown learned a lot more than he ever wanted to know about the 2004 Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
Although the play never names names and is presented as a work of fiction, Brown says the production—which was first performed in 2006—is obviously based on a collection of the experiences of the 11 soldiers at the Iraq prison who were convicted of crimes such as dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery (the fine print includes offenses such as rape, torture and homicide).
“It was a pretty emotionally intense piece,” Brown says, “and it was definitely a challenge to help actors get to those places.”
The play doesn’t take place in Iraq, but does revisit it in very harrowing ways. Focusing on a series of therapy sessions between a traumatized Iraq war veteran (Jason Huff) and the female military psychologist assigned to give him routine treatment following his involvement in the scandal (Cessa Betancourt), the audience is eventually put in the position of being witnesses to the horrors. As one of the penultimate scenes involves nudity relating to a particularly nasty torture technique, Brown cautions that the play is intended for mature audiences.
Brown says in the months he’s been working on the play with the graduating students who suggested he and fellow WWU professor Mark Kuntz collaborate with them on The Treatment and another one-act focusing on Abu Ghraib, Guardians, he’s come away with an appreciation for the complexity of the situation.
“I think I have more of an understanding of the extreme pressures that these young soldiers were being put under,” he says. “It’s not like they were making these rules. Someone was telling them what to do.”
While he has yet to see Guardians—which shows “unflinching” first-person accounts about what really happened at the prison from both a disgraced soldier and an English journalist—Brown says he’s looking forward to seeing how the two come together.
He’s also proud of the four students who found connections between the two works and suggested they would make a great night of theater.
And, although the plays are being produced outside of the auspices of the university, Brown is confident they highlight the talent the school is helping nurture.
When asked why he would put months of work into helping get the plays to the stage if it’s not part of his job, Brown quickly answers that it’s simply what he does.
“It’s also because I believe in this piece of theater and these actors who want to do significant work,” he ways. “This is what theater is meant to do—be a cultural reflection from which we learn and grow. It’s the kind of theater that raises important questions.”
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