Politics and drama collide in ‘Stuff Happens’

In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld sparked international controversy by responding to the widespread looting in Iraq with the words “stuff happens.” Little did he know that English playwright David Hare would write a play about the Bush and Blair administrations’ decision making that led to the war in Iraq and title it just that: “Stuff Happens.”

A production of the play, which premiered in 2004 at the National Theatre in London, opens tonight at the Meadows School of the Arts.

Hare’s “Stuff Happens” goes beyond what most might believe it to be. The play is neither political satire nor documentary, though it does contain real dialogue from the post Sept. 11 days.

Hare describes his most recognized piece as a “history play,” with very recent history in the spotlight.

For the actors, this presented a daunting task: portraying characters that are fresh in the minds of the audience.

Rhonda Blair, director of the Meadows production, says she helped her student actors with this task by providing them with “information on the run up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, including pertinent U.N and U.S. documents; recommendations for books such as Bob Woodward’s ‘State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III,’ and Michael Isikoff’s and David Corn’s ‘Hubris: the Inside Story of the Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War;’ biographies of the main characters and videos dating from January 2003 to August 2007.”

Senior theater major Durrell Cooper will play Gen. Collin Powell. He says he prepared by reading Powell’s autobiography and watching videos of him speak.

Bianca Denis, junior acting major who will play Condoleezza Rice, took another approach. Denis was able to briefly speak to Rice over the phone through the help of new SMU Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Lori White who is a close friend to Rice.

Even after researching and studying to play these roles, the actors also had to deal with the fact that these characters are still being highly criticized. Senior theater major Carson Alexander will play President George W. Bush.

Through all the preparation the cast has done to play these roles, they each hope that the message of the play will move the audience.

“This is an event that is still happening. So, if the audience realizes that they don’t agree with [the decisions made], hopefully this play will inspire them to use their power as an American citizen to let their voices be heard,” says Cooper.

Denis feels similarly: “We as the American people have the inalienable right to voice and show our concerns about things that are happening in this country.”

Alexander adds, “I want the audience to come in with an open mind. It’s important to remember that President Bush is every American’s president. I think it’s easy for people to think that because they didn’t vote for him, they are somehow exempt or not accountable in part for the state of things. That kind of thinking in the 2008 election could be dangerous for us.”

Because the theme and message of the play are still an obviously hot topic, some may not want to deal with it in a theater. The play, though, does not seem to take political sides on the continuing war in Iraq.

“Stuff Happens” runs Monday through Saturday at 8 p.m., with shows at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The show is being held in the Margo Jones Theatre in the Owen Fine Arts Center. Tickets are $13 for adults, $10 for seniors and $7 for students, faculty and staff.

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