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DAYLIGHT PRECISION Runs Now thru 3/16 at TNC

"Daylight Precision" by Douglas Lackey takes us back to World War II and into the great moral controversies involving strategic bombing. Should we bomb cities, or military targets? The United States began by avoiding cities but ended up destroying them. Lackey shows how the change came about by tracing the careers of Generals Haywood Hansell and "Bomb them back to the Stone Age" Curtis LeMay. Lackey writes, "700,000 civilians lost their lives because Hansell lost his command to LeMay. Hansell is the unsung tragic hero of World War II." Theater for the New City will present this new work tonight, February 21 to March 16, directed by Alexander Harrington.

The play deals philosophically with the evolution of U.S. precision bombing strategies and the issues that shaped it. Hansell was the key and largely unsung Army Air Force planner who accurately forecast the material needs of the air war in Europe and the time frame for the invasion of the continent by the Allies. Trained in the Air Corps Tactical School between the wars, he became a member of a group known as the "Bomber Mafia" who promoted daylight precision bombing of military, not civilian, targets and advocated for an independent Air Force. Throughout his career, Hansell opposed bombing civilian targets as morally repugnant and militarily unnecessary. His steadfast moral support of precision bombing led to his dismissal from command of Allied air forces in the Pacific in January 1945. He was succeeded by General Curtis LeMay, who designed the catastrophic firebombing raids on Japanese cities. Anyone who wonders how Hiroshima and Nagasaki came about will learn the answer from "Daylight Precision."

As an observer in London in 1941, Hansell witnessed the resilience of the English to the German blitz and became convinced that bombing civilians could not win a European war. Britain fought back with indiscriminate night raids on Germany because British bombers were vulnerable to German interceptors, so they required the cover of darkness. America's B-17, however, was a "Flying Fortress," able to fend off German fighters and equipped with an accurate bombsight that made day raids on specific targets practical. Therefore an American strategy of bombing only military and industrial targets became feasable. The ultimate effectiveness of American B-17's bombing Nazi industrial sites was not fully appreciated until after the war, when German historians particularly documented the damage done by Hansell's bombing of ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt and Regensberg in 1943.

In October, 1944 Hansell, as the U.S.'s premiere air power planner, was shifted to the Pacific to develop operational plans for the new and unproven B-29 "Superfortress," America's first long-range strategic bomber, which was to be used there. After being installed as de facto commander of the 20th Bomber Command in 1944, Hansell targeted the Japanese aircraft industry for high altitude daylight raids. These missions were hampered by bad weather and jet stream winds and appeared unproductive. Fire bombings, however, were gaining acceptance among USAAF brass as a way to defeat Japan before a bloody land invasion would need to be mounted. He was replaced with General Curtis Lemay, an advocate of area bombings who supported the air war doctrine that was to include the fire bombings of Tokyo and the Atomic Bomb. Such was the progress of the air war: the US began with a commitment not to bomb cities, but by 1945 had bombed at least 40 of them, causing 700,000 in losses in Japan alone.

Socially, Hansell was good dancer; he was called "the unofficial poet laureat of the Air Corps," known for his fondness for Gilbert & Sullivan, Shakespeare and Cervantes. The play presents him as a decent man with a tragic flaw that manifests in his uncompromising stand for daytime strategic bombing. Lemay is presented as his dramatic counterpoint: every time Hansell's fortunes go down, Lemay's go up. The play also presents an imaginary wartime friendship for Hansell with the noted British pacifist Vera Brittain. They debate such issues as the limitations of combat and the identities of enemies and sinners. Their dialogues frame the play's arguments of what is moral and immoral in war.

Playwright Douglas Lackey has two lives, as a playwright and a philosophy professor. He is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Baruch College, CUNY, where he has taught philosophy since 1972. But he has a ten year relationship with the Theater for the New City, where his first play, "Kaddish in East Jerusalem," was presented in 2003. Lackey is the author of numerous books and articles on the ethics of warfare, including "Moral Principles and Nuclear Weapons" (1984), "The Ethics of War and Peace" (1989) and "Ethics and Strategic Defense" (1990) . He was recently involved in the first comprehensive effort by American philosophers to develop a moral assessment of the bombing of Germany during World War II, published as "Terror from the Sky" (2012). He writes, "I am grateful to the Theater for the New City for allowing me to present this story of a great American hero. I have tried to present not just historical facts, but the inner emotional life of this conflicted man."

Some playgoers may remember the arguments about daylight precision bombing presented in two famous films, "12 o'clock High," and "Command Decision." Both films ended their stories in 1943. Lackey's play takes up where "12 o'clock High" leaves off and follows the bombing controversy to its bitter and bloody end. He writes, "The moral problems of the play are still with us. Every time a drone bomb goes wrong in Afghanistan, the discussion of precision bombing starts again. History changes, but moral problems never die."

Pat Dwyer heads the cast as General Haywood Hansell. Joel Stigliano plays General Curtis LeMaY. Joseph J. Menino plays Henry L. Stimson (U.S. Secretary of War) and Sir Archibald Sinclair (British Secretary of War for Air). Danielle Delgado plays Vera Brittain, the British author of "Testament of Youth" and "Massacre by Bombing." Eric Purcell plays General Harold ("Hap") Arnold (Commander, USAAF) and Sir Arthur Harris (British Commander, Bomber Offensive). TJ Clark plays Lt. Orvil Sanderson and Maxwell Zener plays Lt. Harold L. George, two members of the American team who planned the highly classified American air war plan for the European theater. Kyle Masteller plays Sgt. Robert Jarell, a B-17 ball turret gunner.

Set and Video Design are by Lianne Arnold. Lighting Design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Costume Design is by Lisa Renee Jordan. Production Stage Manager is Katy Moore. Assistant Director is Daniel Ricken.

February 21 to March 16
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at East Tenth Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
$15 gen. Adm., $10 seniors & students. Box office 212-254-1109,
Runs: 1:50 with intermission. Critics are invited on or after February 21.

Director Alexander Harrington makes his TNC debut with this production. He is the founder and artistic director The Eleventh Hour Theatre Company, for which he has directed "Agamemnon," "The Burial at Thebes," "Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2," "Henry V" and his own adaptation of Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov (Part 2)," all at La MaMa. His Eleventh Hour Theatre productions outside La MaMa have been "Richard II" at HERE and "The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1" at The Culture Project. His first production at La MaMa was the Richmond Lattimore translation of "Agamemnon" in 1997, before he founded Eleventh Hour Theatre. His other directing credits include "Billy Budd," "Twelfth Night," "Much Ado about Nothing" and the premiere of Edward Einhorn's "Linguish." His adaptation of "The Brothers Karamazov" was published in the New York Theatre Experience's anthology "Playing with Canons."

Harrington's play about LynDon Johnson, "The Great Society," premiered last summer at the Clurman Theatre presented by Albert Podell and the York Shakespeare Company. As a scholar and critic, his work has been published in Dissent magazine, First of the Month, Upstart Crow, Shakespeare Criticism, Vol. 89; and Literary Themes for Students: War and Peace. He contributed an essay on political theater to the anthology New Threats to Freedom published by Templeton Press, for which David Mamet and Christopher Hitchens also contributed essays. Harrington was artistic director of the HB Ensemble in 2012.

His productions have been widely praised for their simplicity, resourcefulness, expert acting and clarity of vision. The New Yorker (Liesl Schillinger) deemed his "Brothers Karamazov, Part I" a "gem of a production," adding, "the cast is remarkable." The New York Times (Margo Jefferson) wrote that part II of the adaptation was "resourcefully staged and intelligently dramatized." The New York Post (Donald Lyons) described his "Henry V" as "superb," deeming it "a riveting meditation on the heart of the matter - the simultaneous cruelty and glamour of power." Alexander is the son of Michael Harrington, author of "The Other America."

Pictured: Pat Dwyer as General Haywood Hansell. Behind: projection of American B-17 bombers. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

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