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Paulanne Simmons

"Guardians": Provocative or Pornographic?

Lee Pace in "The Property Known as Garland." Photo by Brian Michael Thomas

Directed by Jason Moore
The Culture Project
45 Bleecker St. at Lafayette
Opened April 11, 2006
Tues. thru Sat. 8 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 3 p.m.
$46 (212) 307-4100 or www.ticketmaster.com
Closes May 25, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 20, 2006

The two most sordid scandals to come out of the Iraq War may well be the Abu Ghraib debacle, in which Pfc Lynndie England claimed she participated in the abuse of prisoners because she was ordered by "persons in my higher chain of command," and the publication of fake torture photos in The Daily Mirror, which led to the resignation of that British paper's editor.

Either one of these foul incidents would have been sufficient for a provocative, if not penetrating, drama. But playwright Peter Morris, well-known for his controversial work ("The Age of Consent"), in a stupendous example of overkill, chose to use both stories in his two-character monologue, "Guardians." The play, the winner of the Fringe First Award at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is now at The Culture Project.

Directed by Jason Moore, "Guardians" features Katherine Moennig ("The L Word") as the American soldier and Lee Pace as the British journalist. Under Moore's one-track direction, Moennig and Pace walk around in circles until they have trampled all life out of anything that comes into their worn out paths.

The real culprit, however, is neither Moore nor Moennig and Pace. It is Morris, who says just about everything he has on his mind during Moennig and Pace's opening monologues and spends the rest of his time and talent describing abusive sadomasochistic heterosexual and homosexual activities in excruciating detail, accompanied by language that would have made a sailor blush not too long ago but today is greeted with a shrug and a yawn.

It's not that Morris doesn't have a story to tell. Certainly these two scandals raise important questions about the role of journalists as the guardians of truth, and the role of the military as guardians of a nation's peace and security. To say nothing about torture avarice, ambition and personal responsibility.

Sadly, Morris is interested in provocation in its most venal sense. The British journalist is so nasty one can't help but wonder why his mother didn't drown him in the bathtub before he reached maturity. And the young soldier, a refugee from Appalachia, is a latter day feminist from the backwoods who sounds like the evil twin of a Beverly Hillbilly before the clan's discovery of oil.

The disgraced soldier is eager to rehash her trailer-trash past, mostly to relieve her own guilt, and the unscrupulous journalist is filled with self-loathing and cynicism. But neither one ever views his or her conduct in light of those larger issues Morris uses as a pretext for his scurrilous text.

It seems Morris never saw a stale joke or a cheap laugh he didn't fall in love with. His supply of dirty words is truly impressive. One suspects he spends a lot of time hanging out with high school students.

In their closing monologues both Moennig and Pace make it clear that no matter how the equation is set up, money equals power equals sex. What they don't say is that this applies to playwrights as well.

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