U.S. patriotism versus civil liberties, national security versus the rights of prisoners, harassment versus freedom of speech -- these are the issues that Australian playwright Stephen Sewell takes on in Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America, a UC Davis theater production set to open next week.
The play is set in the humanities department of a New York university, where Professor Talbot Finch, a liberal academic who deplores American policy (the play's title is also the title of a manuscript that Finch hopes to have published), blithely espouses his radical views to students, friends and colleagues.
But when a gunman appears in Finch's office -- spouting the opening lines of Kafka's The Trial -- a chain of events is set in motion that is at once terrifying and utterly inexplicable. Is this shadowy figure an agent of a secret government agency or a lone terrorist? Why is the man's image absent from security videotape? As Finch's actions are interpreted in the most damning light by university administrators, the basic moral tenets of democratic society are called into question.
Director Jade McCutcheon, a UC Davis faculty member, said: "This play represents only one view -- an extreme one perhaps -- of the events of 9/11 and subsequent reactions, but it's important for all of us to step outside our comfort zone sometimes and see how another culture views us.
"In academia," she said, "we ask our students to use critical analysis, but we don't always put ourselves out there in the political world and take a stand."
A preview performance is set for Oct. 26, with subsequent performances Oct. 27 and 28, and Nov. 2 through 5, in Studio Theatre at Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.