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George Packer Successfully Attains Hyphenate-dom

Filed under: On the Spot   Tagged: , , ,

Martin Schneider writes:

It’s difficult to contemplate George Packer’s first play, Betrayed, without using the word authenticity, which aspect does not exhaust its virtues. I went into the performance imagining that it might be something of a chore, but it was far from that. Derived from Packer’s lengthy article of the same name, which ran in the March 26, 2007, issue of The New Yorker, the play is about two Iraqis whose well-nigh bottomless idealism towards the occupying/liberating Americans is put to the test.

Americophiles from way back, Laith, a Shiite, and Adnan, a Sunni, start working as translators in the Green Zone only to find themselves in a remorseless no man’s land, blithely treated as potential suicide bombers by their well-meaning but ultimately apathetic employers and reviled as traitors by their neighbors outside the Green Zone.

Chief among the charms of the evening, play and production alike, is the nuanced portrait of the duo at its heart. Likeable and fundamentally apolitical, Laith and Adnan gamely put up with a welter of indignities from the Americans, most of whom (with one notable exception) are content to do their jobs and not entertain the consequences of the fear-driven system in which they are operating.

The betrayal of the title recalls the myopia we showed in letting Hungary twist in the wind in 1956—not to mention the empty promises of 1991 so vividly portrayed in David O. Russell’s Three Kings, a movie with a somewhat similar agenda to Betrayed. Packer is, of course, first and foremost a reporter, and he lends the material a depth of observational detail that no ordinary playwright can match.

In recent times we have seen Tim Robbins’ play Embedded, Brian DePalma’s movie Redacted, Robert Baer’s movie Uncovered … it’s easy to get mixed up. I hope the conflation of title confusion and outrage fatigue prevents no engaged theater devotee from seeing Betrayed. It runs until April 13, so there’s plenty of time, and tickets are as low as $25 in a small room in which even the last row is a decent seat.

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