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July, 2003

Theater Group Presents John Walker Lindh Project
By Jim Scanlon
 

   In an example of strikingly relevant, local, contemporary theater, the Conservatory Theater Ensemble, made up of about a dozen super charged young actors presented three evening performances of "Patterns of Indifference: the John Walker Lindh Project," a documentary play at the Marin Theater Company's small theater in Mill Valley.
   The performers, all from Tamalpais High School, interviewed friends, family, teachers and people on the street to compile a mosaic of local attitudes towards John Walker Lindh. They then met together to discuss their experiences and thrash out the script and the presentation.
   Despite just three performances and a limited advertising budget, the show sold out and many who did not make reservations were turned away. The piece was fast paced, with multiple actors appearing on stage at the same time, presenting their characters singly, or together, with only minimal costume and make up and basically no set, except for lighting. They walked on and off as the play went on, occasionally speaking from off stage. The effect was engrossing and hypnotic.
   In fact, the intermission was a kind of disappointment in that it broke the illusion and the trance like atmosphere induced by the constant change. The prices for the aromatic coffee and wine and the tempting sweet snacks were reasonable, but one wanted to get back to the performance.
   It is simply amazing how the atmosphere of a theater can allow a bright beautiful teen age girl to morph into an older pompous man, and then back into a girl, or for a tall thin African American youth to turn into John Walker's white corporate father --- and project a sympathetic father at that! What can one say about a teen age girl who can turn herself into the smug, sarcastic Bill O'Reilly just by brushing her hair back and putting on a man's tie?
   They were all constantly metamorphosing into and out of personalities they weren't and with no warning! So much so that it became anxiety provoking. Occasionally the audience broke out in sudden intense laughter at ironic or absurd comments by the characters.
   The John Walker Lindh story from teen age years in Marin to conversion to Islam, to study abroad, to near death during a prison massacre in Afghanistan, to his secret imprisonment on a US Navy ship in the Arabian Sea, to his trial and sentencing in a Virginia Court, were all woven among threads of comments by local people on parenting, education, fairness and justice.
   The play carried no discernible ideological stamp but it seems that the consensus was that John Walker was treated unfairly. It would seem that the interviewers did not encounter many upset and angry people who advocated life imprisonment or death for Walker as one often heard from other parts of the country (i.e. "They should just shoot him!")
   The play seemed to place Walker as from Fairfax, whereas others, including former President George Bush (of Gulf War I) placed him "from Marin" mentioning anachronistically "hot tubbers." One often heard of his coming from "California, the land of fruits and nuts" while the British referred to him as the "American Taliban."
   After the show, it was fascinating to listen to these kids interacting with about half of the audience that stayed for questions and answers. They were obviously elated at having successfully accomplished something important and eager to share what they learned.
   It would be great to see these kids take on other relevant local issues like the educational system, community attitudes towards young people, drugs sex and reproduction and any number of here and now issues totally ignored by the so called adult world.
   One really can't fault these youngsters for reflecting the opinions of the people they interviewed. They did what they did and they did a good job of it. But the monstrous injustice that was inflicted on a young man was hardly hinted at. After all JWL himself thanked his captors for taking care of him and thanked the court that sentenced him to twenty years imprisonment.
   It may take some time for the realization to sink in that the enormous power and influence of the most powerful government on face of the earth was brought to bear on one sick, wounded, isolated individual, his tiny defense team and his fractured bewildered family. The Attorney General of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the 41st President, assorted media pundits, blowhards and bigots tried him and found him guilty in and before the media long before he himself agreed to plead guilty at his show trial.
   The only prominent person to express any sympathy whatsoever for him was George W. Bush. Isn't this world we live in so exceedingly strange?

 

 

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