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University of Iowa News Release

April 27, 2006

Iraq War Provides A Provocative Setting To Begin The Iowa New Play Festival

The 2006 Iowa New Play Festival wastes no time in getting down to serious dramatic business -- with a twist of dark humor. The opening production, Sean Christopher Lewis' "Militant Language," -- 5:30 and 9 p.m. Monday, May 1, in the David Thayer Theatre of the UI Theatre Building -- lands in the Iraq war zone, where American GIs guarding a private construction site are going to have trouble explaining the disappearance of a local boy who worked there.

Yes, this is the same Sean Lewis who brought to life Sean Boogie -- a mixed-up white rapper who only wants to be black -- in "I Will Make You Orphans" a few weeks ago at Riverside Theatre. The same Sean Lewis who has said he does theater, "because I'm angry and have a lot on my mind, and this is the cheapest and best medium for what I want to say."

Locating a play in the midst of a current, controversial war might seem to be the recipe for an agitprop melodrama. But that's not what Lewis -- who says "I believe very much in America" -- is aiming at.

"The play is filled with dark humor in an attempt to examine what we go to war for and what war is on a personal and national level," he explains. "A hot-button play, it is bound to spark conversation, and it is conversation, debate and change that I am working for in my plays."

But why humor in a situation that would appear to be anything BUT comic? "The humor shouldn't be construed as an attempt to write a comedy about Iraq -- can you imagine that?" he says. "Instead I wanted to make the characters human and honest with real relationships between themselves -- it's the honesty within the intensity of the situation that brings out the humor.

"Some of the scariest times of my life, when I look back on them are amazingly funny in the little details; it's the larger scope that's terrifying. I wanted to pay attention to the specifics -- if I was going to put soldiers on stage I wanted you to get to know them, to laugh with them, to know them as people and live their decisions good and bad with them."

This focus on "the specifics" derived from a process of research and introspection provoked by the stark, relentless fact of the war in the daily life of America in 2006.

"The inspiration for the play came from my personal relationship to the war -- having friends overseas fighting, seeing it on the news, reading and learning more and more about it, as we all did," Lewis explains. "And as I read I became very obsessed with warfare as a human interaction. In what ways do human beings, you or me, go to war with one another on the emotional, financial or any other level from day to day? This was the start."

Lewis located the play at a private construction site, rather than in a specific military engagement, to put the soldiers' experience in higher relief.

"I wanted to have soldiers who were as proud of this country as I am: I believe very much in America. My parents were both Irish born citizens who came over in acceptance of the ideals that our country is held up to.

"So, I thought if I were defending these ideals and was sent over how would I feel about having that commitment put to work on something that was private, and not beneficial for the whole of the American public back home. It made me feel very conflicted and that's where I strived to write from, in order to explore the mentality and arguments for being there on both sides instead of dictating a lesson to people.

"I'm not offering answers, because nothing is that simple, but I am hoping to raise the questions again to remind us not to forget."

The Iowa New Play Festival is just the beginning of the creative process for many scripts. "Militant Language" is already guaranteed a life after the Iowa New Play Festival: The script has been accepted for workshopping at the National Center For New Plays at Stanford University.

Lewis invites audiences to share both in the development of the script and in discussion of the issues it raises. "A subject like this needs audiences," he asserts "There's a movement in American theater that says you can't be political or attempt to discuss troubling things as a group because it's bad for the box office.

"I think that makes us very small. That takes away the idea that a single person can provoke change with what they choose to say, what they choose to see and what they choose to hear. A character in the play says 'We need to start talking about this, man.' I believe that. I hope audiences accept the invitation to the conversation."

This play contains material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether it is appropriate for them should contact the Theater Department at 319-335-2700 for additional information.

The Iowa New Play Festival, a tradition unique in American collegiate theater, will present a dozen new scripts from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop in productions and readings May 1-6 in the University of Iowa Theatre Building. The UI Department of Theatre Arts concludes each spring semester by dedicating all its resources -- acting, directing, design, stage management and technical -- to an intense and event-packed festival that offers student playwrights the productions and feedback that are essential for their development and offers audiences an opportunity to participate in the creation of significant new American theater at the ground level.

A new play, written by a student in the Master of Fine Arts program in playwriting, will be premiered each evening of the 2006 festival, with performances at 5:30 and 9 p.m. (7:30 p.m. on Wednesday). The daytime will feature readings in Room 172.

Tickets for all the evening productions -- $6 for the general public and $4 for UI students, senior citizens and youth -- will be on sale one hour before each of the performances May 1-6, and tickets will also be on sale noon to 1:30 p.m. each day of the festival at the Theatre Building box office.

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, ur-acr@uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu