Starring Lisa Berry, Ari Cohen, Sergio Di Zio, Ian Lake. Written by Hannah Moscovitch. Directed by Richard Rose. Tarragon Theatre, to Feb. 3.
About midway through Hannah Moscovitch’s This Is War, a short and intense look at the conflict in Afghanistan through the eyes of four Canadian soldiers stationed in the area, Private Jonny Henderson (Ian Lake) describes his failure to prevent a nearly fatal explosion. His hesitation to shoot an approaching teenage boy, he says, happened because he was “having an off day.” For most of us, an “off day” means spilling a cup of coffee or a taking 45 minutes to write an email. But, as Moscovitch suggests, for active military personnel, letting a personal distraction interfere with professional responsibilities can have much more severe consequences.
Henderson is part of a quartet of soldiers being interviewed by a journalist who is researching a catastrophe connected to their platoon. Thanks to rigorous media training, the interviewees keep their answers short, so the story behind the facts is told through flashbacks—to the mission in question and an incident the night before. Designer Camellia Koo uses yards of camouflage mesh to make the Tarragon Extra Space feel especially claustrophobic and oppressive, and the scenes reveal the intricacies of living in close quarters in an incredibly stressful environment, as well as the inevitable domino effect as each soldier tries (and fails) to bury his or her own burdens.
It’s not a groundbreaking concept and the ending needs a clearer resolution to bring home the horror, but the honest performances, Moscovitch’s tight script, and Richard Rose’s direction reveal a fresh take on both Canada’s involvement in the Afghanistan war and the challenge of separating your professional responsibilities from your personal ones.