The Most Liquid Currency in the World
Sierra Leone is apparently the new southeast Asia. Though other postcolonial milieus invite comparison, the boom in blood diamond–related media seems most akin texturally to the romantic tropes of things from The Quiet American to The Year of Living Dangerously, starring maverick journalists, morally ambiguous soldiers of fortune and impassioned innocents trapped in the crossfire. Which isn’t to downplay the horror or continuing significance of the subject but rather to acknowledge the post-imperialist voyeurism that colors first-world consciousness—something this production first owns up to, then succumbs to.
Playwright Reich’s searing, informed outline of the war and intertwined precious-mineral trade in 1990s Sierra Leone is elegant and arresting, a lucid docudrama that unfolds in unforced small-scale dialogues. Valiantly addressing the pivotal disconnect between Western comfort and developing-nations hellishness, it further faces the paradox of liberal concern in the globalized era head-on: The situation—a photographer and actress on location, hoping to publicize the conflict—is contaminated by salacious, careerist media-industry calculation from the get-go, and most of the principal “players” aren’t quite likeable. But somewhere in the course of nailing the character types (both actual and stylized), the play gets lost in those very poses, whose final shading is the substitute for any dramatic payoff.
A superb cast, under Francis’s bold direction, makes this an infotaining treat nonetheless. Gioppo and Cronholm are very different kinds of beautiful; Odor, Teninty and Lacey are studies in problematic masculinity; but Meyers, as native witness Mosquito, is appropriately the heart of the show.