The Vertical Hour

FREE!  READER’S THEATER

The Vertical Hour by David Hare

Prospect Theater Project
520 Scenic Avenue, Modesto CA

(209) 549-9341 or house@prospecttheaterproject.org

Sunday, March 6, at 2 pm

The Guardian’s Michael Billington got it right. Although discussion of the Iraq War and of Sarajevo feature in David Hare’s play The Vertical Hour (2006), the play isn’t primarily about the war in Iraq, nor about international violence, nor ultimately, about politics and war at all, although it has a great deal to say on these topics, most of it pungent. Except, that is, if you’re talking about the hidden war that is waged among  people locked in a close knit but inharmonious circle –say, a woman journalist/professor and her fiancé and the fiancé’s estranged father, on the occasion of the woman’s first meeting with the father.

Nadia Blye teaches at Yale. She’s an expert on international terror and, in her writings and her classes, an exponent of the rationalist approach to politics. Before Yale, she had served as a war correspondent but she began to feel at risk of becoming a danger junkie, and her anger at the injustices of the world was starting to warp her thinking. Now, though, all is well –in balance. She’s engaged to Philip Lucas, sunny and non-confrontational, a physical therapist, who offers her a world that is the opposite of the horror she lived amongst for so long a time. Nadia and Philip are traveling to England to meet Philip’s father, Oliver, a physician with a foggy past. Oliver is everything that Philip isn’t. He’s cynical, bitter — and seductive, very seductive. In England, Oliver sets out to get under Nadia’s skin. Soon son Philip and he are at war, with Nadia the prize.

The center of the play is two long scenes with Nadia, Philip and Oliver, set in the rolling countryside south of London. These scenes are bookended by scenes at Yale, before and after the England trip, Nadia with two of her students. Dennis (before England) is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative: whatever America does is right because America always wins; other nations should simply study us and copy as well as they can. Terri (after) is Dennis’s mirror opposite, as unreflective as he is in her analysis of international affairs but deeply critical of American policy. Dennis and Terri have their personal agendas too, which come out in the course of their meetings with their teacher, the oh so brilliant Miss Blye.

Some of the best lines in the play occur when Oliver takes Nadia on over Iraq. Oliver says he was against intervention from the start.  “From the beginning?” That’s Nadia. “Let’s just say,” Oliver replies, “I knew who the surgeon was going to be, so I had a fair idea what the operation would look like.”  Nadia admits that she supported the intervention at first but laments what followed after it. But she says to Oliver, “I don’t think the mess that followed invalidates the original decision.”

Hour is the best kind of play for the Prospect. It makes you think, features sharp lined and memorable characters, and delineates a real and intense personal conflict. For the right kind of theatergoer –one who relishes engagement with a play—it is memorable theater.

David Keymer, for the Prospect Theater Project