Black Watch — What a title! The famous Black Watch regiment on its blackest watch:  Iraq.

The regiment’s proud history and the tragic trajectory of its assignment during the Iraq war melded by the acid of irony.

What’s astounding here is the union of naturalistic acting with choreographic flights of imagination.  The regimental crew is so totally believable as soldiers, simple Scottish guys turned military, that it’s hard to believe they’re actors, even from one foot away as I saw them from the first row.  After the play, I expected they’d head back to barracks.  Actually, I felt I’d been in the army.  These are actors?

Yes, brilliant and versatile–and energetic–actors, resolving hostilities in the group with dancing wrestling matches, miming their responses to letters from home–bitter or joyous–with sign language and mime.  Taking gunfire with shock and gallows humor.  Their claustrophobic living conditions and desert dry days are relieved by poignant porn photos, and a sensory overload of raucous, blaring firepower seen from the distance…until it closes in.  In  the individual, resistant breaths of bagpipes we hear men struggling to stay alive.

St. Ann’s theater is set up like a local high school stadium with the drama arena the playing field, and we cheer and fear for these soldiers we know as well as the kids in our class.  It keeps us in touch with their vulnerability.

This is the finest contemporary play I’ve seen since Stephen Adly Guirguis’ Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train.

Black Watch is written by Gregory Burke and directed by John Tiffany, and presented by the National Theatre of Scotland.

St. Ann’s Warehouse is in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Their web site will tell you a lot of ways of getting there.  Go.

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