The blind
Anna Bajek on the spectacle ‘Wojna’ (‘The war’) staged by the Department of Theatre and Drama of the University in Michigan

The blind

One of the lines from the spectacle ‘Wojna’ directed by Malcolm Tulip goes as follows: ‘We have lived in the darkness so long that we can’t see the light anymore’. War has rendered every character of Lars Norén’s drama dysfunctional, not just the Father (Ryan Rosenheim) who returns home blind after years of being away. The loss of sight could be understood metaphorically – the man has seen so many atrocities that he lost one of his senses along with a part of his sensitivity and thus he will never be able to look at the world like before. He was the one to experience war in a much stronger way than any other character – he fought at the front line. He literally personifies the quotation above which describes members of his family in a metaphorical way. The Father’s blindness is a permanent mark of war which has taken over and overshadowed everything in the world. It’s never going to end. Its influence over human lives will be felt by the generations to come and it will change the way to perceive reality. Leaving the American spectacle aside for a moment, the number of the blind is increasing – according to the Association for Researches on Causes of War at the University of Hamburg, there was a total of 32 wars and military conflicts in 2010 alone.
In fact, the spectacle staged by students of acting from the University of Michigan refers to all 32 of those conflict, along with every other that has already happened and will be. The play is set in a nameless country destroyed by a war. We don’t know any details of the conflict. The story is general and universal, it is also set outside of any time-frames. Semira (Lauren Balon) compares her fate to the experience of a Jewish woman during World War 2, the protagonist of a book she is reading, but the plot reflects a situation that could be caused by any conflict. The most important plot twist in Norén’s drama resembles the matrix of ‘Brothers’ directed by Jim Sheridan, even though is not as psychologically profound. In Sheridan’s film, a soldier who fought in Afghanistan returns home. He was pronounced dead and while he was absent, his wife engaged in a relationship with his younger brother.
The low-key spectacle by Tulip, written for five young actors, is very similar, but the affair remains a secret – the Father never learns that the Mother (Lila Hood) got involved with his brother (Aaron Huey). His blindness prevents him from discovering this secret so diligently hidden from him by his wife. The whole structure of the drama is based on this secret – the Father cannot discover the truth. Another important part of the text is the history and the character of the family which, before the Father’s return, consisted of the Mother and two daughters – Semira and Beenina (Zoey Bond). Those two are in contrast to each other. The former cannot find her place in the world as she is immature, the latter is a prostitute dying to leave town. To them, Disneyland or Germany seem like unreachable utopias and places from a better word, so strikingly different from poverty and famine they see on the daily basis. Here, everything has been contaminated – a neighbor raping one of the women is probably just an episode of a much more complex story.
Even when the Mother along with Ivan and her daughter are trying to run away, leaving the crippled Father, the symbol of war, behind, the lights flash and one can hear a loud bang. This is the end of the show. The attempt to get away from this world eventually failed.
Even though ‘Wojna’ is not innovative in its form or plot and it’s a rather general tale, quality acting is the strong point of the spectacle. One watches it from a close distance, as the audience surround the small stage and this device is crucial to the reception of the spectacle. Students act against each other, constantly interacting in an exuberant way. It would be difficult to point out the lead role or single out anyone, but the most intriguing character and probably the most tragic one is the Father played by Ryan Rosenheim. On the other hand, it would be even more difficult to sympathize with him.