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A CurtainUp Review
When We Go Upon theSea
When We Go Upon The Sea, takes place on the eve and morning before his trial before a United Nations tribunal to face charges of committing international war crimes. Bush is played by Conan McCarty who, although he doesn't have the stature, does employ the resolutely cocky self-righteousness and the fixed smirk of that famously arguably-illiterate man from Texas.
Apparently the hotel has had enough important guests over the years who have stood trial at The Hague to warrant the employ an in-house combination concierge/valet/accommodator/wish-fulfiller. Piet is Dutch and played with consummate élan and with the prescribed accent by Peter Schmitz. Piet is willing and prepared to offer any number of services to Bush to make him comfortable and at ease, including all the bourbon Bush can drink (he's no longer on the wagon,) the pleasures afforded by Anna-Lisa (Kim Carson,) a prostitute/"relaxationist" who may be Piet's wife or cousin or both or neither. Bush lets his acquaintances know that he advised Laura and the family to stay home.
What we begin to ask ourselves soon enough is where is this going? There is lots of pro and con exchanged between Bush and Piet about the politics of war and why we wage it, who bears the guilt, and who has the right to condemn it. . .the old arguments that go round and round without, in this case, much snap, crackle or bite. The play does, in fact, get a bit tedious. As expected, Bush has no regrets, makes no apology for anything, and remains unrepentant regarding the death of 300,000 Iraqis.
Piet has his moment and the play's best scene when, to affect a politicized honesty, he recaps Europe's imperialistic history and specifically that of the Dutch "going upon the sea." When the dialogue is turned over to Piet and Anna-Lisa, their interplay has the resonance of Kafka-light, slightly mechanical, presumably well-rehearsed and calculated to affirm and confirm their status and their own murky but evidently permanent relationship.
Anna-Lisa is a pro and loves her work and has little difficulty seducing the only semi-reluctant Bush. The sex happens in another room although we are obliged to listen to their zesty and responsive moaning. How nice to know that Bush, even under these circumstances, has no performance issues in this department. A night of consensual debauchery, that includes the snorting of cocaine, leaves Bush no worse for wear in the morning and ready to face the jurors.
Waiting for a conflict or a crisis in this play is like waiting for a light bulb to go off above Bush's head. Perhaps Blessing, who wrote the award-winning and very successful A Walk in the Woods, seems almost lost in the woods trying to find a way into either Bush's brain or into the real or perhaps psychological reasons why Piet and Anna-Lisa would want to spend their lives catering to alleged criminals. Perhaps Blessing is trying to make us see how we willingly prostrate ourselves before power and also give up the right to our own destiny in the service of others. I hope I am reading into the play a bit of what Blessing was aiming for.
Piet and Anna-Lisa appear resigned to remain together in the hotel as an almost robotic team, permanent fixtures of humble servitude, is a scary thought. There should have been more of this weirdness. I liked the way the accommodating Schmidt would have a sip from each glass of bourbon before it passed to Bush's lips. Taste-testing has it rewards. Larson is quite lovely to look at and gives Anna-Lisa's industrialized sensuality a compassionate edge. Her poignant and tragedy-filled back-story/journey certainly brings a welcome dimension to an otherwise one-dimensional character. McCarty certainly did try to make Bush more than one-dimensional, but that is probably expecting too much to ask from any actor. Unfortunately, When We Go Upon The Sea, under the direction of Paul Meshejian, eventually just fades away into the bland and beige confines of the hotel suite designed by Meghan Jones.