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Winner! 2014 Horton Foote Prize for Outstanding New American Play
Winner! 2013 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama
Winner! 2013 PEN Center USA Award for Drama
Winner! 2011 L. Arnold Weissberger Award
Mogadishu, Somalia, 1993, and photo journalist Paul Watson is about to take the picture which will win him the Pulitzer Prize, and with it change the course of US foreign policy and history. A story for our times, The Body of an American explores the interplay between political upheaval, and the ethical responsibilities of reporting war in an age saturated by images and information.
Directed by Michael Kelligan
Rob Stradling as Paul Watson
Douglas Gray as Dan O’Brien
The Body of an American is a taut, intelligent docu-drama about the meeting of two men brought together by the story of a photograph. That photograph was of the corpse of David Clevelend, the American of the play’s title, being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu after the ill-fated 1993 US military mission to neutralise the Somali warlord Mohammad Aidid. The story of the mission, later turned into the movie Black Hawk Down by Ridley Scott, is secondary here to the personal experience of the aftermath of the battle, as witnessed by the photographer Paul Watson, whose picture of the dead soldier won him the Pulitzer Prize. Central to this experience was the guilt he subsequently felt for the photo’s effects on the fallen man’s family, and for the tension it exposed between his professional obligations and his sense of moral responsibility. Into this fraught debate comes the writer Dan, a man with no such comparable life experience, but one, nevertheless, fascinated by the psychological make-up of the darkly introspective Paul. As well as exploring the ethical and personal consequences of a life time spent reporting war, The Body of an American also asks profound questions about the interplay between the images produced by conflict and the political ramifications of their dissemination. For it was Paul Watson’s photograph which led President Clinton to order the withdrawal of American troops from Somalia, and, calamitously, informed Al-Qaeda of the vulnerability of US foreign policy to American public opinion. A vulnerability which continues to this day in the propaganda mileage won by the coverage of Islamic State, and its murderous assaults on our values and sensibilities.
“An engrossingly subjective docu-drama which feels psychologically acute and politically important…a really superb piece of theatre.” – The Stage
“Hauntings, on a personal and national scale, guilt, obsession and depression form the subject of this dense, knotty play… a play that tightens its grip as it probes where war lives, and discovers we each carry it inside ourselves.” – The Guardian
“A feisty docu-drama about Paul Watson…a fascinating mix of troubled and troubling biography and autobiography…holds you in a steely grip.” – Time Out
“The Body of an American is a play about writing a play but it’s also an intricate meditation on the nature of memory and guilt.” – Evening Standard
“Provides ample food for thought… Moment by moment the livewire, oddly introspective theatrical experience keeps us on our toes, and accumulatively it presents us with a debate about where we should draw the line between observation and involvement, what’s good about curiosity and what’s bad.” – Telegraph