Stuff Happens – Royal Alexandra Theatre

By Dana Lacey

Photo of: Nigel Shawn Williams, Sarah Orenstein, Hardee Lineham and David Fox

Stuff Happens is great on paper. It’s a play written by David Hare in response to America’s war on Iraq, using a mix of different viewpoints, bits from real speeches, meetings and press conferences, as well as re-imagined private meetings between political heavyweights. It’s an homage to history, albeit a history so recent that it’s practically the present.

Originally released in 2004 to great reviews, Stuff Happens is back in Toronto just as another Middle Eastern war ramps up. The title was inspired by Donald Rumsfeld’s glib response to widespread looting in Baghdad: “Stuff happens and it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”

The 3-hour play features a 15-member ensemble cast playing over 40 roles, including Bush, Dick Cheney, Powell and, of course, Condi Rice. I was thankful that while the casting found people that looked the part, the actors were not forced to mimic or impersonate their characters, which saved the play a little -although not completely,- from sounding like bad sketch comedy.

The different types of dialogue were effective for a while, and the narration helped to seamlessly change scenes while exploring passionate arguments both for and against the war. The office chair choreography was brilliant. But the history nerd in me didn’t enjoy having to guess which conversations were real and which were imagined. Midway through the tension disappears, and the dialogue dribbles on without it.

I got lost in the name-dropping and Colin Powell’s unexpected earnestness. The funny bits seemed forced to me, and making fun of Dubya’s unfortunate turns of phrase just feels mean now that Obama has solved all our problems. The script could use an editor with a heartless pen to cut down its agonizing length, although maybe that’s my ADD talking. After an hour and a half of straight dialogue my friend was dozing in her chair, and I was itching to get out of mine. After a few years (and a Michael Moore film or two), the subject matter has lost it’s shock value.

Photo courtesy of Studio 180 featuring Nigel Shawn Williams, Sarah Orenstein, Hardee Lineham and David Fox


STUFF HAPPENS runs until December 23, 2009 at The Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St., W. Toronto)

Showtimes: Availability varies per week.
Week of Dec. 7; Wed-Sat at 8 p.m., Sat. and Sun. at 2 p.m.
Week of Dec. 14; Tue-Sat at 8 p.m., Wed., Sat. and Sun. at 2 p.m.
Week of Dec. 21; Mon-Wed at 8 p.m, Wed at 2p.m.

Prices range from $35 to $65. Tickets are available online or by calling the box office at 416-872-1212.