It's rare that you walk into a garage and see the next great work of art (unless you are a Medici, sponsoring Michelangelo, Donatello, Galileo and Botticelli). That is exactly what happened when I stumbled upon Jim Leonard's new masterpiece Bad Apples, being performed now through December 1, 2012, at the Atwater Village Theater. The lean set and sparse seats disappeared into the grandeur of seamless storytelling, complicated characters whom you can't help but care about, and catchy songs that you'll walk away humming.
This is a production that is much bigger than its stage. And more revealing than the real life story that inspired the play -- the love triangle at the center of the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib. Although it is hard to imagine ever forgetting "waterboarding," naked prisoners stacked into human pyramids, Lynndie England dragging a prisoner on a leash, or Charles A. Graner Jr. giving a thumbs up over a dead prisoner's body, after the public "hangings" of Lynndie and Charles (who are both out of prison), the complicated intrigue underlying this tragic world event was swept under the carpet and out of our minds. The Abu Ghraib images faded, along with a myriad of questions. Who authorized the torture? How do lovers become "rotten apples?" How, in God's name, did this happen?
It would be easy for any attempt at answering those questions to become a weepy "made for television" movie... or a political diatribe. So, I didn't hold out much hope for Abu Ghraib, the rock musical. That is until I found myself close to tears in the third act, when Kate Morgan Chadwick sings, "Nothing Sweeter Than Surrender."
Award-winning playwright Jim Leonard (The Diviners and more), along with songwriters Beth Thornley and Rob Cairns, director John Langs and stars James Black, Kate Morgan Chadwick, Ian Merrigan and Meghan McDonough, has created a play that every adult in America should see. Americans have been at war for a dozen years and yet we know almost nothing of the people who number among the dead or the soldiers who "volunteer" to serve overseas. The headlines remain horrific, but the photos of the horrors are nowhere to be found -- not even on a free, citizen-fueled Internet. This makes Bad Apples important, not just as a great work of art, but also socially -- in the same way that The Iliad chronicles the warriors of Troy. The main characters may be fiction, yet their stories ring very true.
Nothing I can tell you about this play does it justice, except come ready to be rocked. Leave your judgments, and your kids, at home.
If I were writing the script for this play, I'd say that Bad Apples is destined for the Big Apple -- to become a smash hit on Broadway and win a dozen Tony Awards. However, now through December 1, 2012, you can still see it "in the garage" -- at the Atwater Village Theatre, in Los Angeles, California.
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