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Review: 9 CIRCLES, Park Theatre

It’s absolutely impossible to be an intellectually passive audience at the European premiere of Bill Cain's play on the hypocrisy of American warfare.

Review: 9 CIRCLES, Park Theatre Review: 9 CIRCLES, Park Theatre Dante Alighieri built his idea of hell as a colossal conical structure that opens up underneath Jerusalem and reaches the centre of the Earth. He makes his descent steadily, accompanied by Virgil. The further away from Jerusalem, the further away from God and goodness.

A stone's throw from Jerusalem, Iraq and what it represents in the American cultural portfolio is ravaged by conflict. A young soldier puts up a fight before he is honourably discharged. A cold-blooded killer who's completely unbothered by having to make his way through piles of corpses, he is everything the States want in their ranks.

Bill Cain writes a politically intense and thematically complex play that puts on display the hypocrisy and opportunism of American warfare. Based on the real story of Steven Dale Green, 9 Circles presents a country that glorifies combat. It exposes a categorical refusal to deal with the trauma of both employed soldiers and veterans - who are used, discarded, victimised as they please - and the willful neglect of the real victims.

Cain crafts a character whose diagnosed personality disorder and addictive tendencies are identified as bona fide weapons by recruiters who prey on the young. Private Daniel Reeves, played with precise calibration by Joshua Collins, is a fatherless son who had to grow up too fast and stumbled into a minefield.

Collins gives him an untouchable attitude and rampant arrogance that scrapes a superiority complex. A man who deeply craves attention and honour, he can't fathom a repatriation for a crime he maintains he didn't commit.

After all, what's one more violation on the field? Tried for the murder of an Iraqi family and the brutal rape of a 14-year-old girl, his version of hell is crowded with the people he meets on the road to his final sentence. Collins is a machine-gun of words, and his articulate Texas drawl drips with Daniel's fallible reasoning and unempathetic views.

He details his time in Iraq to a number of attorneys who attempt to take his case, revealing the utter incompetence of the military system when it comes to supporting the strain and distress of its troops. His circumstances become a problem only when his crimes grow into a PR disaster.

The president calls him a stain on the United States on national television and he's compared to "another fuck-up from Texas", George W. Bush. His cruelty scares them once it's not targeted towards their common enemy, but his victims are never contemplated in the discourse.

Used as a tool to make a point and haunted by the deaths of the brothers in arms who watched him as he killed and raped, he blames the outcome on the mishandling of his mental health. While other soldiers are lining up to testify against him, he regrets opening up to the army psychologist who sent him on his way, refusing to acknowledge his worries.

The shockingly useless psychologist humanises his traumas but underplays his distressed state. Cain keeps weaving knots in his story. He pinpoints the political fallout of Daniel's situation, but pays little mind to his actual wrongdoings. He exposes a system desperate to place the blame and to avoid any kind of responsibility, while at the same time offering someone who's the perfect product of his context. Cain's criticism is subtle and sharp, but he is also disturbingly resigned to the inevitability of the damage of warfare.

It's absolutely impossible to be an intellectually passive audience. Directed by Guy Masterson, 9 Circles is a bona fide trial of the United States Army. With the action played in the round, the public becomes the jurors, at one point directly addressed by the Prosecutor and the Defence Attorney as they orbit the accused.

Collins delivers an extraordinary performance as the unreliable narrator. On stage from start to end, he introduces an incapability of understanding the moral implications of his actions. He is diligent in his portrayal of a man who was shaped by his training. The side characters (Samara Neely-Cohen, David Calvitto, and Daniel Bowerbank in multiple roles, with Calvitto shining as one of the attorneys) become murky visions playing out for his benefit alone.

Duncan Henderson visually encloses Daniel with a clean and effective set. A neon halo hovers over a carpeted circle that delimits his freedom and a low booming sound (Jack Arnold) greets every person who dares to come close to the Private. Light and darkness accompany Daniel as per Tom Turner's lighting design, cold hues and deep reds imply federal prisons and the rumbling caves of his personal hell.

A good 10 to 15 minutes can be shaved off to get the piece closer to the advertised 90 minutes and ease the redundancy of the message, but it's a striking play with magnetic dialogues that ask very precise questions. Is war worth its human casualties? Is a media circus and a jury of civilians the best way to handle a scandal that could have been prevented? Or is a whole system where the real victims are barely named and acknowledged in a major need of being rebuilt? Get tickets and discuss.

9 Circles runs at the Park Theatre until 23 July.

Photo credit: Mark Douet

From This Author - Cindy Marcolina

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