Blood and Gifts
Don't feel too bad for Bartlett Sher. Although his eagerly awaited "Funny Girl" revival got scrapped for financial reasons, he's still the hottest director in town. After all, only a few could take a dense, very complicated drama about foreign affairs and political espionage and make it feel clear-cut and often enjoyable.
"Blood and Gifts," penned by rising playwright J.T. Rogers, examines the Afghan-Soviet War from 1981 to 1991 through the eyes of James Warnock (Jeremy Davidson, in a convincingly understated performance), an American CIA agent engaging in covert military operations with Pakistan to provide arms for the Afghan resistance fighters.
Warnock, who is cool-headed but extremely deceptive in all his business dealings, tries to use his Russian counterpart (Michael Aronov), a jittery British agent (played by the terrific Jefferson Mays), a friendly but tricky Afghan leader (Bernard White) and many others as pawns to achieve his mission.
Few American playwrights are willing to tackle foreign politics. And while stretches of "Blood and Gifts," which runs just under three hours, can be dry and repetitive, Rogers has crafted a compelling narrative full of surprises that also takes a critical view of American involvement in Afghanistan prior to 9/11.
Rogers even adds a bit of humor, depicting an Afghan fighter obsessed with American pop music.
While the production's lack of scenery helps maintain a film-like momentum, Sher did not need to keep the cast onstage at all times by situating many of them on benches around the perimeter of the stage. Why can't the audience focus on the scene at hand without any distractions?