Gary, an awkward schoolboy, becomes the victim of a local witch-hunt after he delivers a presentation to his class entitled ‘Osama the Hero’. Blamed for a spate of vandalisms in the community, he is bound, interrogated and brutalized by his neighbours, who legitimize their extreme violence on the basis that “You don’t need evidence for terrorists.”
If Dennis Kelly’s play is a heavily politicised examination of the legitimacy of torture in the “War on Terror”, Eimear Burns’ DU Players production makes some risky decisions. By relocating the action from England to Dublin, the whole political backbone of the piece risks crumbling. Even as I leaned in and recoiled at the moral quandaries on show, this sense of dislocation from the source niggled at me: Would Gary’s essay really stir up such violent tensions among the residents of a Dublin estate? The sheer depth of vitriol and abuse hurled at him feels somehow implausible in its new context.
Setting aside, the jarring sense cultural dislocation, Burns’ production works best as a study of intellectual freedom in an age of mob hysteria. Jim Connell Moylan exudes a nervy intensity as the misunderstood Gary, mired in compulsive self-analysis.
While the garbling effect is never fully overcome, the production makes several gallant attempts to bridge the interpretational gap. The inventive staging encourages us to enter into the world of the torture-chamber-come-garage as witnesses to the unfolding cruelty. Seated on crates kegs and mattresses, the audience is first treated to a video montage of Trinity students being interviewed about their perceptions of heroism and terrorism. The projector screen offers some clever contextualizing touches, but can occasionally feel like an unnecessary distraction from the powerhouse monologues delivered by the able cast. The classroom scene in which Gary recalls delivering his controversial presentation is a key example of this. The talented Connell-Moylan is more than capable of vividly rendering the scene through language alone and the video footage of horrified classmates only dilutes the impact.
Presumably as a result of squeezing the show into the slender lunchtime slot in the Players’ Theatre, the play has been substantially cut, resulting in a tonal unevenness, which impinges on the relationships between characters. I was awed from the outset by Com Summers’ menacing portrayal of the estate’s resident thug who by the end, is eclipsed in ruthlessness by his sister (Claire O’Reilly), but felt like several steps in the process had been skipped. The same goes for the queasily bizarre relationship between 50 something year old Mark and schoolgirl, Mandy, and the “Richard and Judy”-style fantasies they act out. The cast and crew simply don’t have the time to tell the story with the deftness it deserves, which, given the sheer array of talent on show in all aspects of the production, is a real shame. Despite its inconsistencies, Osama the Hero is an absorbing and disturbing drama, superbly acted and staged. Well worth a look – unless you’re squeamish.