Theater of war

Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America

Max (Nicholas Stanton) tries to convince Talbot (Ryan Palomo) to keep his political views quiet.

Max (Nicholas Stanton) tries to convince Talbot (Ryan Palomo) to keep his political views quiet.

Photo By David Robert

A friend of mine, a Democrat, has an American flag hanging outside her house, about which a neighbor once remarked, “But I thought you were a Democrat.” So when did Republicans corner the market on patriotism? Isn’t the fact that we have the right to question the current administration’s policies part of what we love about America? These are questions the Nevada Repertory Company asks through their production of Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America, which makes its American premiere at the University of Nevada, Reno on March 3.

Although the play deals with the current American political climate, it was written by an Australian, Stephen Sewell. It tells of Professor Talbot Finch (Ryan Palomo). In Sewell’s original script, Talbot is an Australian expatriate living in New York with his American wife, Eve (Angela Sonner), and working at an American university. In Nevada Rep’s production, Talbot is Canadian.

Talbot has strong views about the post 9/11 paranoia in this country, and he doesn’t hesitate to share them with his class or with anyone who’ll listen. During a dinner party, the subject of the 9/11 terrorist attacks sparks Talbot, who makes incendiary comments like, “You know how many people were killed in car accidents last year? Forty-three thousand. How come we’re not launching a pre-emptive strike on Detroit? All this shit about terrorists is bullshit. They exist. Sure they exist, but they exist because we made them, and everything we do to get rid of them just makes more of them.”

The wordy, academic title of Sewell’s play is the name of the book Talbot has written to earn tenure. It’s pissed off a number of people, including Talbot’s friend, Max (Nicholas Stanton), who’s also a Canadian expatriate. Max tries unsuccessfully on a number of occasions to urge Talbot to stop rocking the boat, as do Eve, their dinner guests and the school administration. Meanwhile, one passionate student of Talbot’s, Marguerite (Rie Takeuchi), praises him for his views.

All this leads to Talbot becoming a target for terrorism and violence by the ominous character of Man (Brady Hess). Sewell’s play often references Franz Kafka’s The Trial, the story of a man who is persecuted and ultimately killed without ever finding out why. Why Man is targeting Talbot and whether Man exists at all are central questions. But more implicitly, the question becomes, how close is America to repeating some ugly history? The Nazi comparisons hit home more than once.

The play’s director, Dr. Jim Bernardi, says the play raises far more questions than it answers: “I don’t think it’s going to make everybody happy because it does challenge. And any play that challenges asks difficult questions. This is a university, and we should be asking those questions. My feeling is that some people don’t want those questions asked, that somehow that means you aren’t a patriot. That’s also brought out in this play.”

Myth, Propaganda and Disaster probably wouldn’t work five years from now, says Bernardi. “It’s all about now. And there aren’t many plays about now. That makes it interesting.”

Audience members are cautioned that the play uses strong language and violence. It’s by no means a family show, but it will definitely stir up emotions, from both sides of the fence.