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Illuminating Stories

By: Melissa F. Moschitto
Date: Aug 31, 2009


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By Melissa F. Moschitto

Worried that the mainstream media war coverage was being "varnished for our consumption," Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen set out to write a contemporary play from the civilian's point of view.  Aftermath is the carefully curated result of thirty-seven interviews with Iraqi refugees exploring what happened after Americans arrived in their country. 

Blank and Jensen established their style of journalistic theatre with their acclaimed play, The Exonerated, based on interviews of former death row prisoners.  But now, with a language barrier and a tense political climate, the process would be more complicated.  Thanks to a Ford Foundation grant secured by New York Theatre Workshop, they traveled to Jordan and with the aid of translators they met with dozens of refugees. 

Though initially slow, the process of translation and interviewing found a rhythm.  People were so expressive, Jensen recalled, he began to understand the stories without the translator, even with knowing only a few words of Arabic:  "The things that shone through wasn't the violence or anger or fear - it was the human spirit."

Blank insists this is not a "left or right show."  The aim is to simply let the stories speak for themselves and offer their own illumination.   Jensen acknowledges, "We can sit here and make up stories about what we think, how we think Iraqis think about us or we can open up a window to the stories that Iraqis are telling to each other."  If Blank and Jensen have anything to do with it, we still have time to decide how parts of those stories play out. 
Melissa F. Moschitto