As a Matter of Tact: Stuff Happens? Bush and Blair find their talking points.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Give David Hare credit for a piercing intelligence and an admirably controlled fury; give Jeremy Skidmore’s cast credit for discipline and for carefully thought-out performances. But if you can’t help an impatient seat-shifting bout—or six—during the three-hour run of Hare’s Iraq-war postmortem Stuff Happens, don’t feel bad: I’m a theater addict and a political junkie, and I was wiggling like a 6-year-old in church. The playwright’s left-leaning politics and warm humanistic bent have often added up to deeply moving stories such as the church-politics drama Racing Demon and the alienated-idealists tragedy Plenty, both effectively staged at Olney in seasons past. But in this account of Bush-administration maneuverings—its misdirections and malfeasances, not to put too fine a point on it—in the months between 9/11 and “Shock and Awe,” Hare deploys a mix of transcript and speculation that seems oddly stale. (We weren’t really invested in the U.N. process? Shocking. Colin Powell felt ill-used and under siege, found himself caught between Iraq and a hard case? You don’t say.) Maybe it’s that this sordid story, which ought to disgust us anew, has been told so often now that we’ve been benumbed by its stench; maybe it’s that four years after the play’s London premiere, its deft, efficient portraits of Rumsfeld and Rice, Cheney and Wolfowitz, Powell and Bush and Blair can no longer be seen clearly through the biographical war-fog spewed by the books (and the headlines about the books) by the McLellans and the Woodwards and the Fukuyamas and the Frums. Whatever the case, there’s good work being done at Olney—by Rick Foucheux as a wary, cunning, obstinate Commander in Chief, Fred Strother as a decent and visibly appalled Powell, and Deidra LaWan Starnes as a devilishly opaque Condoleezza Rice, among many equally effective others—but it’s all being done in service of what feels, by the time we get to that infamous briefing about mobile WMD labs, less like a drama than a sermon. And on this topic, at least, the choir has had plenty of preaching.