By Erin Hylen ’19
Arts & Life Editor
On October 27, 2017, the Gordon College Department of Theatre Arts opened their production of J.T. Roger’s Blood and Gifts in the Margaret Jensen Theater.
“‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’… You see there’s another line. One that’s always left off. ‘Great men are almost always bad men.’ Funny how we missed that,” says Simon Craig, played by Bradley Boutcher ’18.
The play tells the story of the United States’ escalating military involvement in Afghanistan, a conflict that, in the words of director Jeff Miller, “is clearly not over.” The story is told over the period of several years from the point of view of United States CIA operative Jim Warnock, whose enthusiasm and increasing jadedness are expertly captured in a powerhouse performance by Carl Kraines ’18.
Throughout the course of the play, Jim interacts with representatives from many other players in the conflicts, such as the passionate Soviet representative Dmitri Gromov (Daniel Lefferts ’18) and the gentle, yet imposing Afghan militant, Abdullah Khan (Juice Wacker ’18).
Blood and Gifts faces the interesting challenge of having to tell a story spanning several years over the course of 2.5 hours. As a result, scene changes happen quickly and often, with some scenes taking place years after the scene that preceded them and others bouncing between the locations of America and Pakistan. The audience sits on both sides of the theater, facing inwards, and looking down on a worn, carpeted set. The space between the two sides of the audience was wide enough to show the long-reaching impact of the characters’ decisions without alienating the viewer from the story.
In the play, the audience sees the conflict escalate in the Middle East as Jim worked tirelessly to remove the Soviet presence from that part of the world, allying himself with various individuals and working to provide Abdullah Khan’s group of freedom fighters with military advantages.
Through Jim’s interactions interactions, it is made abundantly clear that despite the number interest groups in the region, there is no traditional villain in this story. In fact, all of the main characters act with understandable and, in most cases, admirable motives.
The United States fought to prevent the Soviets from exerting undue influence in the region, the Soviets fought to restore order to a country destabilized by a history of British imperialism, and the Afghan militants fought for their right to choose their own fates. On all sides, good intentions abound, and these intentions are what ultimately drive the story to its inevitable conclusion.
One other challenge that Blood and Gifts faces is the necessary presence of several Afghan characters, almost all of whom are played, in this production, by Caucasian actors.
When asked about this factor of the show, Miller admitted that it is not ideal, saying “Would [the play] be better with [a more diverse cast]? Absolutely. No question.” The question he said he had to ask himself was, “Is what the play has to offer worth using inaccurate casting? Ultimately, I think yes… It is good for us as Americans to see what we did there. For Americans to see it is critical.”
In execution, the use of Caucasian actors does not wind up being terribly distracting. The actors representing these characters all gave special attention to the accent and to making the characters flesh and blood with their own dignity.
Ultimately, the message of Blood and Gifts, expertly executed by the Gordon College Department of Theatre Arts, is at once timely and necessary, and perhaps best summed up with the question asked by character Sam Barnes, played by Abigail Erdelatz ’18: “How do I live in the City of Man while being true to the City of God? I’m asking.”
This question is not made rhetorically. Sam Barnes expects an answer out of Jim, and, perhaps, out of us, the audience, as well.
How do we, with our own ideals, shortcomings, and good intentions strive to do good while knowing it may very well result in unforeseen evil? How do we interact with men and women who disagree with and potentially hate us, while also working with them towards a greater goal? How do we prevent a similar tragedy from happening again?