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Larry Litt

Written and Directed by Tim Robbins
The Public Theater
425 Lafayete Street
Box Office 212.239.6200
Extrended through June 5

It's always encouraging to know there are celebrities who are willing to put themselves on the line in public for their political beliefs. We have a national cult of celebrity watchers and unfortunately too often imitators. We care about what people in entertainment and the media think and do. This is normal condiering the media bombardment and its influence on our lives. Often we react to celebrity politics by creating a dialogue on comtemporary issues. Acotrs become politicians and win handily over their opponents. That said I wonder what Tim Robins was thinking when he wrote and planned the series of blackouts at The Public theater titled "Embedded."

The Actors' Gang production is sometimes touching and ironic, acted with thoughtful energy under Robbins' direction. That said, what does it all mean? What does it get us? Poignant scenes evoked through letters to and from soldiers and their families and loved ones are fairly standard cliches of battlefield drama and sentimentally manipulative even if the actors are very attractive and evocative.

Yes, war is terrible for these soldiers and their families. However, I wondered where are the yahoos hiding in this army; the wild boys who enlist merely to get their high school bullying, other hating, rocks off. Robbins only shows us sensitive soldiers. Where are the sadists, druggies, and trophy thieves who don't have loved ones on the other end of the epistolary tightrope to the benign States. I sorely missed them, because I know they are out there, I've been there, showing their bravado while repressing their fear. As American characters they are violent and insensitive by contrast.

Then there's those lilly livered, effete news media sterotypes. Robbins accuses them of neutered complicity with the Defense Department through contractual war reporting. In reality this news is at least a year old. We've moved on to more genuine distractions such as not letting the media into the Maryland military docks morgue to report on the number of arriving soldiers' corpses.

Blaming the media is the easiest way to consolidate support on any side of an unreasoned argument. It may be partially true, but it doesn't do much good to show war reporters as pawns of politicians anymore. Only the most ignorant, isolated American doesn't realize the news has it censors, spin doctors and sponsors. What can we do about it? Where can we get real news in America? Why does American corporate media agree to conspire with The White House and Defense Department? There's plenty of comedy in that investigation.

Is there no backbone left in the consolidated corporate media? If there isn't then it's time for a new American media to be born with newly dedicated editors and reporters. Don't blame reporters who put their very lives on the line, blame the executives who comply with official governements rules in return for regulatory favors.

In my war memory, war reporters died alongside soldiers and civilians. This bit of journalistic reality is avoided by Robbins and replaced by a quickie romance and semi-crazy Broadway show tune obsessed special ops colonel as the embedded reporters' military advisor.

Somewhere in the preparation of "Embedded" someone decided to project old clips of war scenes and good times from stock footage on the brick back wall of the staging area. Whatever possessed them to use this footage, it's not just amateurish, but hammers an already polemical entertainment into a mixed media mish mosh. Maybe they thought the text didn't create strong enough anti-war feelings. For me it only created bathos and exageration. Why couldn't the Actors' Gang fill the stage with more or their anti-war power instead of stock footage?

Which brings me to the question of the masked Cabinet members chorus. I was reminded of ancient Greek drama where the dyke chorus of just sages sang to the drunken, debauched aristocratic audience. They sang of moral issues to be dealt with here and now. This perverse Cabinet Chorus worships Leo Strauss, their philosopher king. I would have thought they should worship Milton Friedman, the philospher economist and Ronald Reagan, the philospher-actor as well.

There's one character, a Jessica Lynch-like grunt, for whom I had great sympathy. She repeatedly tells her parents that a Gomorran doctor saved her life by hiding her broken body, then telling enemy soldiers she was dead. They don't believe her because that's not the official government spin on her accident, captivity and rescue. Her pleading is a heart wrenching cry from America's wounded soul where wartime stories are cleansed and reconstructed to make media heroes for the folks back home. I remember them from the Vietnam War. It wasn't until that war's end that we knew the full details of the horrors on both sides. And of course the ever politically correct exaggerations.

In essence I agree with everything Tim Robbins has to say in "Embedded." It's worth seeing as an agit-prop polemical entertainment. I just wish he'd found a new way to say what he feels so strongly so audiences other than the converted would convert to the message, then vote the Texans and neo-cons out. [Litt]

If you have any comments or want to notify me about performances or shows, you can e-mail me at humornet@aol.com.

Copyright © 2004 Larry Litt


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