They say this COVID year has crept along, seeming more like a decade. But then again, I find my eldest daughter will turn 18 this month and, come September, will go off to some midwest university soon to be named. I gotta say: wow, that was fast! I guess “they” told me it was going to happen this way. Time is a funny, stretchy sort of thing.
Our upcoming play takes me back to the first days of April, 2003, when my beautiful, brilliant wife Deborah and I were anticipating the birth of our first child. Feeling her contractions coming stronger and more frequently, we checked into the Aurora birthing facility near UWM on Sunday night around 10 pm. Quite the lovely place. However, it seemed Miranda Ryan Cecsarini was somewhat reluctant to make her debut, as she didn’t emerge until the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Yeah; that was long.
It was April 8; Deborah was understandably exhausted from her heroic ordeal, yet filtering through the fatigue was exhilaration and amazement at the new life we held in our arms.
In a rare moment of foresight, I had previously locked in an assistant to assume my BEA’S NIECE directing duties – soon to open at Next Act – should I be needed elsewhere. Good thing I did, because tech rehearsals began the morning our daughter was born and I was free to linger a few days with wife and child. As we dozed through the TV-lit twilight time of recovery, a memorable series of images began playing on hundreds of millions of sets worldwide, including the one in our room.
Soon to be shown over and over in TV-news loops were the premiere images of the American military’s procession through the streets of Baghdad, accompanied by thousands of joyous Iraqis: the wide, littered avenues, the crossed swords parade ground and finally, the toppling of that colossal statue of Iraq’s dictatorial leader and the west’s current villain, Saddam Hussein.
The predictions of a short, tidy, pre-emptive war seemed true. The air bombardment had gone uncontested. Resistance from the vaunted Republican Guard was sporadically tough, but fading; from the Iraqi regulars, practically non-existent. U.S. leaders’ long-held desire for Middle East regime change and purposeful seed-sowing of democracy had finally been realized, and apparently, at a bargain price (for the Coalition anyway).
But as new-mom Deborah and I brought our bundled baby home and began every parents’ crash course in infant care, the democra-seeds scattered between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were proving to be a hybrid mix, soon to sprout chaos, faction, vengeance and terror. Democracy would be crowded out for a while.
Planners had planned for war but not for peace. Cautionary, in-country expertise had been dismissed. The depth of the Sunni-Shia divide was misapprehended. Perhaps most challenging of all, the complement of occupying forces was far short of the number needed to establish lawful and safe conditions for a society suddenly reeling from its release from tyrannical rule.
Then there was the implication, if not outright invitation, that the fight against Islamist terror would be held in Iraq. They came. From Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, Sudan. They came with IED’s, suicide vests, checkpoint assaults, car bombs. They came, they sidled in amongst the growing turmoil, and ISIS was born.
Thank you if you are still reading these words. America’s Desert Storm is a volatile subject for many. I only wish to summarize – in one extremely all-encompassing nutshell – what happened at the beginning, and more importantly, recall the scene of where we set down our U.S. soldiers in the spring of 2003.
This is the backdrop for Bill Cain’s 9 CIRCLES: an asymmetrical war fought through confused identities, hidden motives, ambushes, ignorance, impatience, corruption, deception, and always present: the unknown. Death could come from anywhere, in the guise of a smiling taxi driver or hidden pipe of C4 explosive. And into this dangerous maelstrom came a young man already damaged from years of unbalanced upbringing, previously hardened against empathy and vulnerability. Growing up, his survival had depended on it.
As Cain says, 9 CIRCLES is not about war or Iraq, but the journey of a man discovering himself within the environment of war. His journey takes him from darkness to an even blacker dark, before emerging into a blinding light of human understanding that he had never thought possible. It is a trying journey, yet transcendent, too – for the young man, for his military colleagues, and for us.
But the best part is that, along the way, while this mysterious and ever-engaging story unfolds, many probing questions and ideas are interrogated along the way: that’s the Bill Cain guarantee. He will not quit until we’ve had the distinct pleasure of considering all angles of the event. (And speaking of angles, this play has transferred very nicely to video format.) When I picked up Bill’s play to read for the first time, it remained clutched in my hand until the last page was turned. I hope it has the power to grab you, too.
See you at the virtual theatre.
Tickets for 9 CIRCLES are now on sale at https://nextact.org/shows/9-circles/?tickets. All active service members and veterans are offered $5 tickets to any performance of 9 CIRCLES. Use the code MILVET5 at checkout to redeem this offer. Discount does not include service or processing fees.