Chicago Theatre Review
How Much is a Body Worth?
The Body of an American – Stage Left Theatre
In 1993, Paul Watson, a Canadian photojournalist covering the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, snapped one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century. The battle, which entailed U.S. special forces entering the city and capturing two high-level lieutenants of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, was one of the more disastrous U.S. military campaigns of recent memory, with multiple casualties and two Black Hawk helicopters shot down (the campaign was chronicled in the book/movie “Black Hawk Down”). And it was one of those casualties that Watson documented: as America retreated from the city, joyous Mogadishu residents dragged the naked body of Staff Sergeant William David Cleveland Jr. though the streets of the city, a scene that Watson captured; for his photo, Watson received a Pulitzer Prize.
Watson’s life and his iconic photograph are explored in the highly original “The Body of an American,” which is receiving a sterling Midwest Premiere from the always provocative Stage Left Theatre. Described by playwright Dan O’Brien as a “deconstructed one-man show for two actors,” the show spotlights the considerable talents of Don Bender and Ryan Hallahan, who portray more than 30 characters over the play’s terse 95-minute running time. The two principle roles, though, are Watson (primarily played by the very likable Bender) and O’Brien himself (the dextrous Hallahan), who chronicles his unique friendship with Watson within the play.
There are many things that I loved about “The Body of an American,” with Jason A. Fleece’s laser-precision direction earning particular accolades. What I most admired, though, was the play’s refusal to play it safe with its delicate subject matter. We routinely undervalue the sacrifices that our bravest journalists make to bring truth to our normally ignorant shores, and Stage Left’s production does not mince details. Bender’s Watson is a haunted man, a post-traumatic train wreck who struggles mightily to grapple with the horrors he has captured with his camera – yet, it is his experiences and perspectives that give O’Brien, and us by proxy, some much-needed direction.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through June 19 by Stage Left Theatre Company, staged at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
Tickets are available by calling 773-883-8830 or by visiting www.stagelefttheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.