Dear Audience Members,
Welcome to the exquisite play The Body of an American by Dan O’Brien. It’s an amazing moment when you read a play for the first time and realize that you have come across a complex, poetic, precise, philosophical, politically aware, smart writer whose work you hadn’t known. It’s a dizzyingly exciting moment in the life of the Artistic Director.
The play received its premiere at Portland Center Stage in 2013. However, at the time I was unaware of it. I read the script for the first time in December 2013. Since then, The Body of an American, according to London reviews, received a terrific and intense production at London’s Gate Theatre in 2014. This November Dan was shortlisted at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards as the most promising playwright. A month earlier, The Body of an American received the Horton Foote Award for Outstanding New American Play. Previous awards for the script included the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired By American History, the PEN Center USA Award for Drama, and the L. Arnold Weissberger Award. That’s a lot of recognition and awards for a play that is only receiving its second US production at the Wilma. I hope that our production will inspire other artistic directors around the country to produce this immaculately written and riveting play.
"I knew I wanted to write about him, but I didn't know how, or whether he'd let me. But I did something I'd never done before; I wrote to a stranger, and he wrote back."
- Dan O'Brien
Playwright Dan O'Brien and photojournalist Paul Watson began e-mails exchanges in 2007, eventually leading up to a meeting in the Arctic Circle in 2010. As you will see in the play, the event that inspired Dan's first e-mail to Paul occurred 14 years prior. Here is a detailed timeline of the events expressed in The Body of an American.
1987 - Paul Watson begins working for The Toronto Star in Canada.
1993 - Paul clicks the shutter in Mogadishu, Somalia. The Battle of Mogadishu was fought
in October, 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia, between US forces and Somali militiamen
loyal to the self-proclaimed president-to-be Mohamed Farrah Aidid. A US Army force
in Mogadishu (Delta Force) attempted to seize two of Aidid’s lieutenants during a
meeting in the city. Shortly after the assault began, Somali militia and armed civilian
fighters shot down two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The battle resulted in 18 deaths,
80 wounded, and one helicopter pilot captured among the US raid party and rescue
forces. American sources estimate between 1,500 and 3,000 Somali casualties,
If you could ask anyone at the Wilma - actors, designers, directors, staff members - just ONE question, what would it be? For our next question, we asked Resident Stage Manager Patreshettarlini (Pat) Adams and Digital Communications Manager Johnny Van Heest a Wilma One Question.
The Body of an American chronicles the friendship between playwright Dan O'Brien and photojournalist Paul Watson - a friendship that was developed over three years of email exchanges. It's remarkable how such a profound relationship began with letters between two strangers.
So we asked, have you ever had a pen pal?
Inspirations and Thoughts from Wilma staff, artists, and collaborators: Johnny Van Heest on the Arctic
It’s a brisk day today and we had a taste of snow last week, so I was inspired to write this blog entry.
I hold an irritating fascination with the Arctic and the cold North. Allow me to qualify…It’s really more ‘irritating’ to others because even though I’m an American Mid-Atlantic-er, I don’t often join in the choir of despair when our golden, temperate autumns turn into snaps of cold with punctuated variations of snow, rain, and sleet – only to be followed by two months of a season I call ‘Grey,’ just before an eruption of allergy season. When the inevitable complaints about the winter weather start to surface, I tend to gleefully rebuff with “Imagine if it was like this every day!” See? Irritating.
But whatever. I like the cold and snow*. I’m that guy.
Wilma dramaturg Walter Bilderback in conversation with award-winning photojournalist Paul Watson.
Walter Bilderback: You and Dan O'Brien have known each other for 7 years now, and the relationship we see develop in The Body of an American has continued to the present, including a new volume of poems to be published soon. Has your friendship with Dan changed you?
Paul Watson: I rarely reply to emails like Dan's. He was a stranger, pitching a play, and coming out of the blue as it did, I thought it sounded bizarre. But I'm a diehard fatalist and my inner voice told me to do whatever Dan asked and I have.
I told him at the start, as I warmed to the idea, that he would be my confessor. And that's the main effect he's had in my life. Normally, I don't like to talk about the subjects he brought up unless it's to my wife, in my own home. But Dan has lead me over important ground, and to me, his art is in expressing painful truths that pure journalism can't capture.