There are lots of reasons not to go to war – the tools of negotiation not having been fully exhausted yet, the potential loss of life, the financial expenses incurred, and the psychological impact of battle on military personnel and civilians alike to name a few. The life of Howard Zinn (1922-2010) was not one I had come across before seeing The Time of Our Lies – but his political views are certainly intriguing, even if they become rather preachy in this production’s closing scene. Nonetheless, at least one can easily grasp and comprehend his viewpoints and philosophy, irrespective of whether one agrees with them or not.
Zinn (the show’s director Ché Walker at the performance I attended, Daniel Benzali having been indisposed) fought, as so many people of his generation did, in World War Two, although his experiences, far from fuelling a desire for more combat, made him want to strive for peace wherever possible instead. I wouldn’t quite say, judging from this production, that he was an all-out pacifist, but his opinion was certainly against the grain of the typical American expressions of patriotism. Not that he hated his country, but rather saw alternative solutions to conflict than blowing things up with all the devastation that results.
One of his arguments is that civil disobedience isn’t nearly as much a concern as civil obedience – a tendency to not act against what the government of the day is trying (or not trying) to do because people don’t believe they can make a substantial difference. It is rather different in the armed forces, where one must carry out orders or suffer very severe consequences, but the show also talks about a military exercise on a town in France. In short, it was obliterated – opposing forces, ‘friendly’ forces, civilians, the lot.
A supporting cast of six (in the order listed in the programme, Alvaro Flores, Lanna Joffrey, Trang Le, Claire Lebowitz King, Anais Lone, Jessye Romeo) keep the stage busy with incomings and outgoings, utilising the auditorium’s various entrance/exits. Every so often I got the feeling that the stage was busy for busyness’ sake. Different types of dramatic effect are evident in this relatively short play – Zinn’s direct addresses to the audience help to maintain interest, whilst others engage in a round of call and response, highlighting how ruthless military operations are.
There’s not much to speak of in terms of set, though the lighting (Arnim Freiss) is very effective – and the only memorable costumes were military khaki uniforms. Flores puts on a convincing impersonation of the 45th President of the United States, without the makeup and wigs of Saturday Night Live sketches, ostensibly to provide a further example of how military superiority is used for less than helpful purposes. The play progresses at a steady pace, allowing some time for the audience to reflect on what are sometimes very deep and meaningful assertions.
That said, it does eventually make the same ‘war is bad’ point repeatedly, albeit using vastly different examples and situations. Some lyrics are in a different language, and it would have been good to have some way of knowing what those words meant. Part of me wonders whether this play may work better stripped down further, a monologue with Zinn talking for an hour, setting out and building up an argument in favour of ending needless devastation everywhere. Intellectually stimulating, an ethereal atmosphere is created that counterbalances the gravity of the narrative – food for thought in this persuasive and philosophical production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Time Of Our Lies explores Zinn’s personal history, including being a soldier who dropped bombs on Royan, France in WW2 This fateful moment troubled him for the rest of his days and shaped the man who would become a moral compass for the United States in ways that are more relevant today than ever before.
The Time Of Our Lies is a battle cry for democracy, transparency, and inclusion. The play embodies Zinn’s battle for social justice and his lifelong struggle against false historical narratives written by those in power that poison the well for true democracy.
HOWARD ZINN | Press Night MARTINA LAIRD (DANIEL BENZALI)
ENSEMBLE | ALVARO FLORES, LANNA JOFFREY, JESSYE ROMEO, CLAIRE LEBOWITZ-KING, TRANG LE & ANAIS LONE
WRITER & PRODUCER I BIANCA BAGATOURIAN
DIRECTOR – CHÉ WALKER
COMPOSER – SHEILA ATIM
CHOREOGRAPHER – BONNIE ODDIE
VIDEO COMPOSER – GAMAL CHASTEN
VIDEO CHOREOGRAPHER – MAUREEN FLEMING
How It Is Productions in association with Park Theatre present
The Time Of Our Lies
By Bianca Bagatourian
THE TIME OF OUR LIES
Venue: Park200, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates: 30 Jul – 10 Aug 2019
Press night: Thu 1 Aug, 7pm
Age guidance: 12+