This review of “The International" at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens 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 play opens with three people viewing abstract art paintings in a modern art museum somewhere in the world. Each eventually takes a bench and alternately tells us their story. Two were directly involved in an unnamed armed conflict and one watched the conflict on television. All were individually traumatized by what they saw and experienced. Although no particular war or battle was mentioned, it is clear to me that playwright Tim Ruddy has written about the siege and overrunning of Srebrenica in July, 1995 by units of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska aided by a paramilitary unit from Serbia known as the Scorpions. In April, 1993, the United Nations declared the enclave of Srebrenica in the Drina Valley of Northeast Bosnia a "safe area" under United Nations protection. In July, 1995, there were 370 soldiers from Dutchbat (Dutch Battalion) under the command of the United Nations in UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) that were fired upon and failed to prevent the town from being overrun by Bosnian Serb forces. It is estimated that 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys were killed, 6,838 of which were identified through DNA analysis of body parts found in mass graves.
With Bosnian Serb units advancing through the countryside, UNPROFOR's "Blue Shirts" advised the local Muslim population to travel to Srebrenica so they could get food and water and be under the protection of the United Nations International Force. Upon entering the enclave, all Bosnian men and women had to surrender their weapons. Because Bosnian Serbs held the high ground around the town, not only did snipers continue to kill people on an hourly basis but food deliveries also came to a halt. The little food that made it to the town via the black market was sold to the few refugees who had money. UNPROFOR's soldiers were under strict orders not to fire back unless directly fired upon and the Muslim refugees had surrendered their weapons so they could not fight back. Air strikes that were called in never fully materialized and eventually the town was overrun and the Dutch UNPROFOR soldiers were forced to surrender. There was a general feeling that the International Community did not do enough to prevent this massacre from taking place. While that certainly is true, it is an issue that continues to come up. Should we have done more to protect the Jews during World War II? What about the estimated 1,500,000 people who died due to starvation, execution, disease and overwork during the brutal regime of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge movement in Cambodia from 1975-1979? Where was the world community when a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed in Rwanda during a 100-day period from April-July, 1994? Should we be doing more to stop Boko Haram running riot and kidnapping little girls in northern Nigeria? What about the ISIS executions and oppression taking place today in the territory they control between Syria and Iraq in the Middle East? Tim Ruddy, the playwright, has an answer to these questions, that goes well beyond the need for government action. Mr. Ruddy calls for individual action and individual responsibility. He says,"All of us are now colluding in international massacres because we sit back and hope that our politicians will do something about it, but when they don't, we don't either."
While all these problems are bigger than the life of any one person, The International reminds us that individual people are, in fact, deeply and personally affected in every war and every conflict. Many die, others lives will never be the same. One of the three main characters in this play is Irena, a bright, passionate farmwoman who watches her idyllic village life shattered by an encroaching conflict. She is excited about attending a wedding in the town square when a group of non-Muslim soldiers show up and slice the throat of a small male Muslim child, simply because they can. Irena tells us about her family's 15-kilometer trek to the "safe area," describes conditions there, and recalls how she offered up her body to the enemy so they would spare the life of her ten-year old son, only to see him shot in the face by his schoolteacher, who she considered a friend. Hans is the second major character in the play. He is a well-meaning international peacekeeper, one of a battalion of Dutch soldiers who were unable to protect the Muslims who had trusted them. At first his outpost is overrun and he watches two of his comrades die. Then, while in the "safe area," he experiences the frustration and helplessness of watching people around him get killed, without being able to do anything about it. Hans eventually is forced to kill a Bosnian Serb sniper, a child soldier, who was about to kill him. He now suffers from PTSD. Dave, the third character in the play, is an artist and truck driver who lives in Los Angeles. He has watched this whole crisis unfold on CNN and is shocked that no one is coming to help the people who are trapped and starving. Eventually, he cynically bets the enemy will destroy the local population before anyone comes to help them. Dave ends up winning the bet but is traumatized by his inability to have done anything about the situation. Perhaps Irena best reflected the feelings of all three characters and their experiences when she says at the end of the play, "There is no one left who knows who I am."
The International will give you insight into what it is like to be touched by war and human brutality. You will feel the frustrations and see the logic behind the decisions that people make during times of crisis, disease, hunger and death. You will question bureaucratic decision-making and find out why the inability to act and to defend yourself and others can cause more stress and anxiety than giving yourself a fighting chance against aggressors. You will observe why it is so easy to become detached from the horrible violence taking place in the world especially when you are in the process of planning a Disney vacation or trying to deal with your own domestic family life. Finally, you will be reminded how violent and sadistic individuals can become, especially in time of war, when they are unrestrained and view their enemies as sub-humans. With Timothy Carter as Hans, Carey Van Driest as Irina, and Ted Schneider as Dave, this brilliant and talented ensemble cast will take you on an emotional roller coaster leaving you feeling drained by the end of this engaging 80-minute journey. The International is a powerful, moving and honest drama that provides insight into the souls of all three characters, who now find peace in the quiet of a modern art museum where abstract art best represents the chaos of the inner conflicts each has individually experienced.
Three years ago, Origin Theatre Company commissioned Tim Ruddy to write a ten-minute piece, with the support of The Cell, that specializes in incubating new work. That piece, The International, was eventually expanded to 40 minutes and then 80 minutes. At Origin's 1st Irish Theatre Festival 2013, The International won awards for Tim Ruddy as Best Playwright and Carey Van Driest as Best Actress. The International premiered Off-Broadway for a four week run at The Cell from April 3-May 4, 2014 (with the opening on April 10, 2014). The show is now back for 21 encore performances (thanks to Urbanite Theatre from Sarasota, Florida), from July 15-August 2, 2015. Tickets, which are $45.00 to $65.00, are available via Ticket Central by phone at 212-279-4200, or online at www.ticketcentral.com