Words of war
Before journalists can tag along with the U.S. Army for the invasion of Gomorrah in Embedded/Live, a play written and directed by Tim Robbins, they must make it through a boot camp run by a colonel who makes references to Pippin and dictates what they're allowed to report. Some aren't too happy with thatthe reporting restrictions, that is, not the show tunes. And Robbins clearly isn't too happy with the current administration or the events in Iraq. He also appears in the play, which will air on the Sundance Channel (August 21, 9 p.m. EDT).
What was with the commander liking show tunes?
I don't know where that came from. It was against the stereotype. I was thinking about a performance of The King and I in Riyadh, and I just imagined him as Anna. It stuck with me.
Why did the media beat you up about this play?
When you go after [the media] in New York, their backyard, you don't expect them to embrace you. [But] to say the play is antijournalist is ridiculous. The hero is a journalist. It's interesting because throughout the run in New York, most of the audience would stick around for discussions with embedded and unembedded journalists [who were invited to come], and some of the best compliments were from the journalists.
Did anything in those discussions change your opinions?
It gave us insight into what was going on. [BBC] reporter John Simpson said one of the reasons he chose not to be embedded was he would feel indebted to the soldiers for his safety. He wouldn't be able to write anything critical because he'd develop camaraderie with them. When you're a reporter, you have to remove that prejudice.
How about as an American playwright? You don't seem to have attacked the soldiers in the play.
I personally know quite a few people who have served. I can't fault them. I can't even fault the ones doing things we get morally righteous about. They're in a pressure-filled situation in the midst of battle, and [they're] sleep deprived. It's not fair to indict them. I have a much bigger problem with the people who put them in those situations through manipulation.
What are the difficulties of depicting an ongoing battle?
There are many stories to be told, and there are definitely attempts to use [the play] for propaganda. You can't say it's OK to use it for propaganda that will get poor people to enlist and not use it to call into question the reasons we're there.
Working on anything else political right now?
I don't tend to work on political projects. I just finished a cameo in the Tenacious D movie [about Jack Black's band].
And that doesn't have an antiwar message?
Nope. It's just entertainment. Vicky Hallett