Why are we dropping bombs on this peaceful village this morning? It’s a question a young American bombardier named Howard Zinn should have asked his commanders before embarking on bombing raids during the Second World War. Instead, his own personal fervour to defeat fascism, coupled with the spurious belief that his aerial bombs were hitting military targets only, enabled him to obey orders and participate in the bombing campaigns of WW2.
But if Howard spent his young adult life in obedience to military authority, he would spend the rest of it regretting it. In particular, his part in the bombing of Royan, a town in southern France, where 2,700 innocent civilians lost there lives in a mindless, inhumane and senseless bombing mission since the US military knew the war would be over in a couple of days.
Writer-producer Bianca Bagatourian’s brilliant play, The Time of Our Lies, places Howard Zinn centre stage in the retelling of his guilt and horror as he contemplates his responsibility in the deaths of myriad numbers of civilians during the war, and his subsequent journey from civil obedience to radical dissent. It also benefits from Bagatourian’s personal relationship with Zinn since she worked with him on the ideas of the play before his death in January 2010.
Zinn is determined to uncover the real evil in society which, for him, is neither fascism nor military dictatorships, but ignorance. He believes that to be a responsible citizen you must first have knowledge of your own nation’s history and the lies it tells to deceive its young men and women that it is necessary to go to war.
Initially, Daniel Benzali was cast as Howard Zinn, but actor Martina Laird stepped in literally hours before the opening night to replace Benzali, who was unable to perform due to an unforeseen circumstance. This is not as catastrophic as it might have been since, throughout the play, a group of actors take turns in gifting us with Zinn’s radical political logic in words that mirror the text of his celebrated book, A People’s History of the United States. So, it is the populace who become important and not Zinn himself.
Although, each character presents a damning argument against capitalism and the bombing campaigns of the United States in Vietnam and during the Gulf War, the reporting of these brutal actions is offset by music, song, and guitar playing at intermittent moments in the play.
Director Ché Walker, sensing the heaviness of the material, emphasises the physical energy of the piece, with the actors moving in graceful and determined stances and, at times, lapsing into different languages in the story-telling process.
Given the current state of politics, Howard Zinn’s warnings have more relevance today than at any time in recent history. The only problem being that The Time of Our Lies is a play that appeals to people who already share Zinn’s sentiments. The question is how to reach the global multitude who still believe in patriotism and the lies a government invents before sending its men and women off to war.
Finally, The Time of Our Lies presents Howard Zinn as a political activist with a passionate concern for human justice, but perhaps the essence of his life and work is summed up in a quote by the English novelist E. M. Forster, who said: ‘If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country‘.
Review by Loretta Monaco
The Time Of Our Lies explores Zinn’s personal history, including being a soldier who dropped bombs on Royan, France in WWll. This fateful moment troubled him for the rest of his days and shaped the man who would become a moral compass for the United States in ways that are more relevant today than ever before.
The Time Of Our Lies is a battle cry for democracy, transparency, and inclusion. The play embodies Zinn’s battle for social justice and his lifelong struggle against false historical narratives written by those in power that poison the well for true democracy.
HOWARD ZINN | Press Night MARTINA LAIRD (DANIEL BENZALI)
ENSEMBLE | ALVARO FLORES, LANNA JOFFREY, JESSYE ROMEO, CLAIRE LEBOWITZ-KING, TRANG LE & ANAIS LONE
WRITER & PRODUCER I BIANCA BAGATOURIAN
DIRECTOR – CHÉ WALKER
COMPOSER – SHEILA ATIM
CHOREOGRAPHER – BONNIE ODDIE
VIDEO COMPOSER – GAMAL CHASTEN
VIDEO CHOREOGRAPHER – MAUREEN FLEMING
How It Is Productions in association with Park Theatre present
The Time Of Our Lies
By Bianca Bagatourian
THE TIME OF OUR LIES
Venue: Park200, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates: 30 Jul – 10 Aug 2019
Press night: Thu 1 Aug, 7pm
Age guidance: 12+