VIDEO: THE BODY OF AN AMERICAN, Dan O'Brien's Ghost Story of a War Photo That Outraged A Nation
Canadian photojournalist Paul Watson was in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 when a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. Rumors immediately spread that the body of a dead American soldier was being dragged through the streets by an angry mob and it was Watson's job to investigate.
But just before snapping a photo of the body of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant William David Cleveland as happy Somalis were beating his corpse, Watson says he heard a voice, one that could only belong to the fallen soldier, warning, "If you do this, I will own you forever."
Published originally in the Toronto Star, the photograph spread through America and outraged the nation. Watson was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his effort, but, in a sense, his association with Staff Sergeant Cleveland may have owned him.
Playwright Dan O'Brien uses this story as the springboard for THE BODY OF AN AMERICA, soon receiving its New York premiere in a co-production of Primary Stages and Hartford Stage. Here he explains the inspiration for his unusual ghost story.
Primary Stages and Rhoda R. Herrick in association with Hartford Stage presents The Body of an American, a New York premiere by Dan O'Brien (The Voyage of the Carcass, Soho Playhouse), directed by Jo Bonney (Father Comes Home from the Wars..., Lost Girls). The limited engagement runs February 10 - March 20, 2016 at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Opening night is Tuesday, February 23 at 8PM. The production will play Hartford Stage January 7-31, 2016.
Winner of the 2014 Horton Foote Prize for Outstanding New American Play and the Inaugural Edward M. Kennedy Award (shared with All The Way). The Body of an American tells the true story of an extraordinary friendship as two men, a war photojournalist and playwright, journey from some of the most dangerous places on earth to the depths of the human soul. Winning rave reviews for its previous productions in London and elsewhere, The Body of an American by Dan O'Brien is "a play that tightens its grip as it probes where war lives, and discovers we each carry it inside ourselves." (The Guardian)
The Body of an American features scenic design by Richard Hoover, costume design by Ilona Somogyi, lighting design by Lap Chi Chu, sound design by Darron L West, and projection design by Alex Basco Koch.
Last week, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced awards totaling more than $27.6 million in its first funding round of fiscal year 2016, including an Art Works award of $30,000 for this production of The Body of an American. The Art Works category supports the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields. NEA Chairman Jane Chu said, "The arts are part of our everyday lives - no matter who you are or where you live - they have the power to transform individuals, spark economic vibrancy in communities, and transcend the boundaries across diverse sectors of society. Supporting projects like the one from Primary Stages offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day."
"Dan O'Brien's play is a haunting journey into the mindset of war and journalism," says Primary Stages Artistic Director Andrew Leynse. "Based on his true-life experience of traveling to the arctic to interview Pulitzer-winning photojournalist Paul Watson, Dan's writing blends poetry and theatricality that comes all together to pack a punch - a fresh and distinctive voice in today's theatrical landscape."