Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1

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Director’s Commentary
by Mark Armstrong

Lily Basen as Roya and Lou Liberatore as Paul in a 2013 performance of Kandahar to Canada
 Lily Basen as Roya and Lou Liberatore as Paul in a 2013 performance of Kandahar to Canada
 (the 34th Marathon of One-Act Plays at New York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre).

Kandahar to Canada could only have come from the creative mind of Dan O’Brien, a writer committed to interrogating both the complex world around us and his own psyche with equal fearlessness. Over the last decade Dan has dedicated himself to exploring and chronicling the life and experiences of war reporter and photographer Paul Watson, who received the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his iconic photo of S.Sgt. William Cleveland’s body being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu during the botched American military action in Somalia—and who has struggled subsequently with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic depression. The resultant body of work includes three full-length plays, a collection of poems, and an opera in addition to Kandahar to Canada.

Kandahar to Canada marked my second collaboration with Dan. It’s impossible for me to reflect on our production at Ensemble Studio Theatre without thinking about the fact that two different actors played Paul during our run. The great Jay Patterson, who was initially cast in the role, surfaced Paul’s trauma and anxiety in a performance teeming with edgy panic and a visceral sense of protectiveness toward his young friend. The wonderful Lou Liberatore—brought on when Jay’s schedule shifted unexpectedly—delivered a performance that shared with us Paul’s weariness, his sadness. As they alternated in the role, watching the performances brought home for me the great expanse of our psyches, the multitudes we contain, the mystery that lies at the heart of our attempts to understand our lives and our experiences. When I think about Kandahar to Canada, I think of Lou Liberatore, body slightly quavering with a sense of restrained anguish, and I think of Jay Patterson, chin jutting forward with a righteous recklessness. I experience the play’s exploration of trauma as a collaboration between those two men, even though they never appeared onstage together.

But all that said, unlike his other plays about Paul, I don’t think Dan wrote this piece primarily to share another story about Paul, although he clearly does that too (and beautifully). I think he wrote the play so that he and Paul together could share the story of Roya. And that is the story you now get to experience.  bug

Mark Armstrong is the executive director for The 24 Hour Plays and a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre, where he directed Kandahar to Canada and Christopher Shinn’s Falling Away.

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