This review of “The International" at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
A Play by Tim Ruddy
Directed by Christopher Randolph
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
at Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 7/15/15 at 7:30 p.m.
The International, a play by Tim Ruddy, an Irish actor, raises the issue of an individual's humanity and when, and under what circumstances, the suffering of others should morally compel one to act, even if one's elected representatives, and society as a whole, remain silent and unresponsive to a particularly heinous humanitarian crisis. The play opens at an art museum where three characters look at abstract paintings and start to share their stories with the audience, but not with each other. One is an unemployed truck driver in Los Angeles, another is a Muslim woman excited to be attending a wedding in a small village, and the third is an International Peacekeeper from The Netherlands. As the plot progresses, the International Peacekeeper and the woman's lives intersect at the center of a genocide, while the third commentator, the guy from Los Angeles, watches the crisis unfold on television, and eager to get the money to take his family to Disneyland, actually bets that those in the town under siege will be slaughtered before help arrives. We hear the soul-wrenching stories of each person as they recall their experiences. Although the location of the genocide is not named, it appears to have been inspired by the Serbian ethnocide of Bosnians in Srebrenica. However, the message and the suffering are universal and relevant to any number of conflicts throughout the world. I remember standing in my synagogue every Friday night looking at a poster that read, "What about Dafur?". The reference was to the Muslim genocide of animists and Christians in the southern part of Sudan. But few people care about human suffering outside of Europe and I wondered, "Shouldn't our outrage and compassion be universal?".
The linchpin of the play is Irina (played by Carey Van Driest), who wakes up to what she expects to be a very happy day. She looks forward to attending a wedding. She gossips about the tableau of happy life in her neighborhood. As the ethnic conflict explodes, she narrates the increasing destruction that strips her and her family of their humanity as they struggle to survive at all costs and tragically fail in the endeavor. Her father is brutally killed while she allows herself to be repeatedly raped in an unsuccessful effort to save the life of her ten- year-old son. She survives the unendurable. You wonder how she is able to go on. Her tragic plight reminds me of Elie Wiesel's experiences at Auschwitz and Buchenwald written about in his book Night. As I watched the play, I vividly recalled the word pictures that Elie Wiesel painted when he spoke at my synagogue of his dreadful experiences that were far beyond adequate description and the parameters of normal human endurance.
The genocide in The International takes place because of the indifference of the international community. The United Nations peacekeeping force sent to protect people failed in its duty because of a lack of resources, commitment, and the incompetence of bureaucrats who were unable to take decisive action. Hans (played by Timothy Carter), one of the Dutch peacekeepers, has a nervous breakdown because he was powerless to save the lives of those he was supposed to safeguard. Dave (played by Ted Schneider), represents an uncaring world when he cheers for genocide as a spectator sport because he has money riding on the outcome.
Tim Ruddy's script is brought to life by the superb performances of the actors. His writing moved me emotionally and reached into my heart. He challenges the audience to ask, "Shouldn't our concern be for all human suffering regardless of our own individual ideological perspectives or country of origin? If not, are we doomed to witness many more genocidal actions in the years and decades to come? When will each citizen of the world step forward and finally say, No More! Not On My Watch!."