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Over the years Hare wrote such literate, intricate, dramatically alive political dramas as Plenty and A Map of the World, which, though written from a left perspective, avoided any touch of shrill polemicizing. While his plays may have favored the left, they created compelling, eloquent right-wing characters whose points of view were never caricatured.
In 2004, Hare's Stuff Happens opened at London's Royal National Theater. In Hare's own words, it was not live-action documentary drama but a history play, which happens to centre on very recent history. Its main characters are George W. Bush and key members of his administration: Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, plus a solitary Bush ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The play's title derives from the blindly arrogant Rumsfeld's two-word cavalier dismissal, uttered to reporters in April 2003, in response to the post-occupation looting in Iraq. Hare sees in those heartless words a direct expression of American hubris and imperial contempt.
Less than one quarter of Stuff Happens quotes the public statements of various politicians verbatim, but for the rest - the behind closed doors political interactions - Hare deploys his dramatic imagination, though he asserts that nothing in the narrative is knowingly untrue. Stuff Happens is not about a government that impulsively and unthinkingly invaded Iraq, but one that had a coldly calculated plan that involved facts being continually twisted and truth made irrelevant. The play presents a step-by-step depiction of what led to this misbegotten, unending war.
Stuff Happens is a familiar story to anybody who has painfully sifted through the many books and magazine articles on the war, or simply followed the newspapers closely during the post 9/11 years. I share much of Hare's political analysis and his sympathies, his revulsion with the war is the same as my own, his villains are my villains. And though there may be a tinge of the cartoon in his representation of Cheney and Rumsfeld, he has caught the duo's mixture of onerous ruthlessness and callous complacency. They are unscrupulous men driven by a goal - regime change in Iraq, and nothing, neither the UN nor old Europe, will move them from their inexorable and murderous course.
Hare's portrait of Bush is a touch more complex. The smirking Bush may mangle the English language, and play the role of a bumbling, slow-thinking Texas rancher, but this supposedly stupid man uses power cunningly, and is very much in control. In Hare's version Bush should never be underestimated. In his words, Bush got everything he wanted out of an operation, and Blair, a supposedly clever and gifted man, was destroyed by it.
The play's central and most complicated character is Colin Powell, who Hare views as a reflective, reticent, decent man, who has intense anger towards Bush and his cohort. In a more internal play he would emerge as a classic tragic figure, a man trapped between what he perceives is right, a commitment to diplomacy and the UN rather than a rush to war and his loyalty to those who hold power. However, Hare has written a play about public events, resolutions, meetings, and press conferences, not about a political figure wrestling alone with his doubts and his conscience. So we never quite know what moves Powell to compromise his convictions, and cravenly provide cover for the administration by offering a disastrously misleading account of evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
Stuff Happens is a play written for the historical moment. It's hard to divorce its emotional impact from one's antipathy to both the war and to Bush and company. But despite its anti-war bias, again the play is not agitprop, Hare provides some space for intelligent pro-war arguments, and avoids turning Blair and Bush into mere figures of heavy-handed parody and satire.
It's no easy feat to produce sophisticated political theater. There's the danger of simply pressing the right buttons and getting a reflexive response from the audience. Hare does press those buttons, but he does it with skill and intellectual nuance. Now that there is talk (plans?) of a US attack on Iran's nuclear installations, a play like Stuff Happens should be a cautionary lesson about the rush to war before all diplomatic options are explored. But that's wishful thinking, even the most powerful political works of art usually end up preaching to the already converted.