You can hear the tension and frustration in Melissa Bond’s voice. It’s the voice of someone who wants to start a conversation and worries she may just end up preaching to the converted.
Bond—a contributing writer for Catalyst and producer of fiction works for KRCL—knew she needed to do something. Opposed to United States military action in Iraq, Bond felt impotent in the face of President Bush’s 48-hour warning to Saddam Hussein in late March.
“And then,” she recalls, “I got [the March 24 issue of] The Nation in the mail.”
In that issue, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America) had published a portion of his new work-in-progress Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy.
He had made it available to anyone who wished to perform it for anti-war purposes, and it wouldn’t cost a dime in royalties. Bond had the foundation for an evening that would help give voice to her frustrations.
There was, however, the small matter of the text itself. In it, Kushner uses Laura Bush (played in Bond’s production by Micaela Nelligan) as his central character. The First Lady has come to a mysterious place, ostensibly to read a portion of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov to a group of children. She soon becomes aware, however, through an angel played by Bond herself, that her audience consists of dead Iraqi children. And she is forced to confront her own complicity in the war launched by her husband.
It’s tough, potentially incendiary material that places a recognizable figure at the center of a debate over the way people justify their own actions—or lack of action. “[Laura Bush] really, in this text, has a sense of right and wrong and good and evil and is unable to face it for more than a short period of time within herself,” says Bond. “That may be some analysis for how we can perpetrate such actions in the name of freedom.”
Bond believes in both the quality and the ideas in Kushner’s work as well as the idea of using it as a way to collect donations towards anti-war efforts and the financial support of reservists’ families. Yet in a way, it’s difficult for her to reconcile the text with what she hopes the evening will accomplish. “What I want is for people on both sides [of the war debate] to talk about how they feel,” she says. “But I don’t know how I’m going to do this.
“I’ve debated this inside myself for a long time. ... I want to say I can be totally passionate and have people come together and talk about it. For me, being a good citizen is about promoting genuine dialogue. And that means stating how I feel clearly but not as a way to be divisive. I’m a real diplomat at heart. While I have my positions, I would have been just as happy if I’d had something to present from the other side and have people respond.”
Some of the more unifying elements may come from the other portions of Bond’s multi-media show. Singer/songwriter Gigi Love will perform music Bond describes as “very spiritual.” And audience members will be invited to contribute to a multi-media sculpture that will be displayed at the Catalyst office.
The exact nature of this proposed sculpture—as well as the specific artist who will give it shape—still isn’t nailed down. Bond simply knew that a participatory element was a large part of why she wanted to stage an event of this kind.
“What I imagined was everybody writing on a piece of paper what they’ve been feeling [about the war], putting it into a big pocket or bag and turning that into a big sculpture that would be displayed,” Bond says. “I wanted to have a pocket into which I could put my grief. And maybe I’m not the only one who needs an engagement with community where we can all speak our grief.”
Bond also realizes that at this point—with the actual combat in Iraq apparently concluded—many people are already moving past grief to some sort of resolution. Though the rapid end to the conflict may seem to render this kind of event moot, Bond believes there are still lingering questions to be answered.
“My initial reasoning,” Bond recalls, “was not only to make some sort of presentation that would bring up issues around the war—specifically, opposition to it—but I had serious questions around my own citizenship and what that means. I wanted to create a dialogue of some sort, especially around the feelings and emotions that come into play in this New World Order.
“I think while [Kushner’s play is] specific to the war in some senses, the war does not end simply with our claim that Baghdad has been taken. Nor do the emotions fade away.”