It’s hard to get rid of the sinking feeling that occurs in reliving the run-up to the most recent invasion of Iraq. In Stuff Happens, onstage at Olney Theatre Center through July 20, British playwright David Hare takes on very recent American history, recounting the maneuvers and backroom alliances made and broken by the Bush administration. Truth and fiction intermingle as we see the folly of a few leaders, enamored of power, tear asunder nations and people.
That’s Stuff Happens, its title drawn from the simplistic shrug then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made in response to a question about rioters looting Baghdad following the U.S. invasion.
Within this larger landscape, there’s one gasp-inducing moment in the Olney Theatre’s three-hour production, strategically directed by Jeremy Skidmore. Naomi Jacobson plays a nameless Palestinian woman, her hair modestly covered, her accent thick with the sand and sun of the Middle East. Plaintive and accusatory, the woman, a Palestinian scholar, asks, “Why Iraq? Why now ֹ for us, it is all about one thing: defending the interests of America’s $1 billion a year colony in the Middle East.”
“We,” she asserts, “are the Jews of the Jews.”
At a theater like Olney, long ensconced in suburban Montgomery County with its heavily Jewish audience, a collective gasp at that moment comes without surprise. While Hare’s work is no shock-and-awe campaign, this monologue hits with surgical accuracy.