Iraq exile tales shock and awe N.Y. theater audiences

Thu Oct 15, 2009 2:38pm EDT
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By Louis Charbonneau

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - An imam describes being locked in a small cage by U.S. soldiers at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, forced to listen to deafening music that mocked Islam. An Iraqi woman unveils her bomb-destroyed face.

They are two of the characters in "Aftermath," a new play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen based on interviews with Iraqi war refugees who fled to Jordan to escape the sectarian violence that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The authors said they wanted to highlight Iraq's refugee problem, which remains a humanitarian crisis. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, there were nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees living in neighboring countries and 2.6 million internally displaced people as of January 1, 2009.

"Aftermath depicts the real people behind the phrase 'collateral damage,'" Blank and Jensen said.

It is not easy to get a ticket for 'Aftermath', which runs until Sunday at the New York Theater Workshop. Thanks to a handful of positive reviews over the last few weeks, the docu-drama is playing to nearly sold-out audiences.

The performance begins in Arabic and switches into English, but with the illusion that the characters continue to speak in their native language. As the one-and-a-half hour drama develops, the characters grow increasingly angry when they feel their story is not being translated properly or completely.

The actors speak directly to the audience, which is placed in the position of interviewers in Jordan seeking to learn what Iraqi refugees experienced after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 that toppled Iraq's feared former leader, the late Saddam Hussein, and his government.

The scenery is sparse. The only things on the stage are benches, chairs and eight actors, who come in and out of the light as they tell how their lives were shattered by death, torture, humiliation and of their desperate flight to Jordan.   Continued...

<p>Amir Arison and Fajer Al-Kaisi perform in "Aftermath" at the New York Theater Workshop, in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/New York Theater Workshop/Handout</p>