Tim Ruddy’s “The International”: Pure, Powerful Storytelling

0 0 0 0 0
Republish
Reprint
How it’s New York: The International is being performed at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre on New York’s 42nd Street

Carey Van Driest as Irena

and was developed in New York City by Origin Theatre Company.
How it’s Irish: The International was written by Mayoman, Tim Ruddy.

 

Tim Ruddy’s The International directed by Christopher Randolph, presented by the Urbanite Theatre, and produced by Origin Theatre Company dispenses pure, powerful storytelling that is both moving and thought-provoking. This production, a three-week Off-Broadway encore engagement of the play that debuted in Origin’s 1stIrish Festival last year, runs Tuesdays through Sundays through August 2nd, with talkbacks after each Thursday performance.  Read about the talkback.

At the conclusion of The International, Irena, a woman in a headscarf with an accent from an Eastern European country never identified, complains that

“there is no one who knows who I am.”

And who is she?

In a literal sense, she is a character in a play who has lost her family and neighbors to war crimes. In a larger sense, she is the universal atrocity victim who is indeed difficult, perhaps impossible for us to know. In the play, Irena remains unknown to her persecutors, to the ineffectual European peacekeepers and politicians, and to the heartless Americans watching the slaughter on TV in their Los Angeles living room. However, Tim Ruddy’s eloquent script and Carey Can Driest’s compelling performance as Irena enable us to see through the eyes of the atrocity victims.

Ruddy’s play and Christopher Randolph’s production emphasize simple and impassioned storytelling. The stage is set with three seats for the actors and with abstract art on three sides: paintings colorful but not so striking to draw your attention. Aside from a few sound effects that underscore the drama, the production relies almost completely on Ruddy’s words and the monologues of the three remarkable actors from the original cast: Timothy Carter as the Dutch peacekeeper, Hans, Carey Van Driest as Irena, and Ted Schneider as Dave, the would-be LA artist.

The characters’ tales begin innocently enough — with love stories and descriptions of beloved, uncommon children. Irena tells us about a wedding celebration. Dave talks about how he met and married a sophisticated and beautiful screenwriter. Hans explains how he joined the UN peacekeeping force mostly for the uniform — and because women like it. He, too, falls in love and gets married.

The production relies almost completely on Ruddy’s words and the monologues of the three remarkable actors from the original cast.

Irena describes her son and her great love for him and Dave speaks to us about his old-souled daughter and his devotion to her. Both children seem unusually serious. Dave’s daughter likes to watch international news on TV.

Ted Schneider as Dave convinces us that he does truly love his wife and daughter and that he is struggling to be an artist while earning money for his family. We learn of his money and marriage troubles, as well, and of how his wife wants both of them to face the fact that neither of them is an artist and to find more lucrative jobs.

Ted Schneider as Dave

Ted Schneider as Dave

 

It is crucial that the audience develop this sympathy for Dave early, so that we can remain with him as his actions become unforgivably callous later. Schneider succeeds admirably in doing this.

After her stories about the wedding celebration, Irena’s tale becomes darker. An unspecified “enemy” is approaching her village, harassing them with sniper fire by day and committing massacres at night — after the reporters and television crews have gone.  They are starving and wandering the roads looking for any kind of help — even killing one another over food.

The device of not naming the nationality of the victims or their enemy might seem risky on paper, but in the theatre it works very well. The story contains enough specific details to keep it rooted in reality and reminiscent of the Srebrenica massacre of 20 years ago. Nevertheless, it is universal enough to allow us to think of similar sufferers throughout the world. Along with the barbarities of the Bosnian war, I kept thinking of the violence of Isis, the civil war in Syria, and the massacres in Darfur. Also, perhaps because of the part of the world Tim Ruddy is from, when I heard of Irena’s wandering starving people, I kept thinking of the horrors of Doulough in County Mayo where many famine victims died walking the roads seeking help where there was none.

The production relies almost completely on Ruddy’s words and the monologues of the three remarkable actors from the original cast.

Hans, the peacekeeper, who stated at the outset that he lacks physical courage, finds himself sent to the conflict zone with two men under his command. He seems ill-prepared for his assignment and is not as committed to fighting or being in dangerous straits as one might expect from a soldier.

Back in Los Angeles, Dave has a house full of visiting relatives and in-laws. His daughter is captivated by the real-life drama taking place on TV and Dave becomes riveted by it himself, realizing that the people of Irena’s community are doomed. His brother-in-law and other men in the house give the news coverage only partial attention and insist that the Americans (who are not involved) will win. Soon the disagreement turns into a bet with $800 in the pot. More detached from the reality of the war than anyone on stage, Dave roots for the destruction of Irena’s community to win the $800. With the money, he plans to take his family to that great escape from reality, Disneyland.

Timothy Carter as Hans

 

 

As the crisis grows worse, Timothy Carter vividly conveys the fears and impotence of a well-meaning but ineffectual European witnessing horrors he cannot stop. Hans and the peacekeepers under his command are overwhelmed by what is happening. One of the soldiers reporting to him is killed and the other is missing. Hans pleads with his commander to make a request through the bureaucratic international chain of command for an American air strike.

In the end, the air strike never materializes and the seemingly inevitable takes place. Carey Van Driest leads us through the terror and desperation Irena endures. Timothy Carter brings Hans’s psychological crackup to vivid life. With tears in his eyes (as he has through much of the play), Ted Schneider shows us Dave’s mixed emotions as he wins the bet and “loses everything.”

In the discussion after the performance, the panelists wondered whether writing and theatre can make a difference in the face of genocide and war crimes. That remains an open question. However, this production of Tim Ruddy’s The International paints a searing portrait of the dreadful effects of war and depicts the points of view of its victims and of its onlookers both caring and uncaring.

Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30pm; Sat at 3pm & 7:30pm, and Sun at 3pm (with an added performance on Sun July 19 at 7pm), at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street. Tickets are available via Ticket Central by phone at 212/279-4200 or online at www.ticketcentral.com

For more details visit www.origintheatre.org.

Read about the talkback after the 7/16 performance.

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 New York Irish Arts