The Wien Experimental Theatre located in Fairfield University’s Quick Center for the Arts had no empty seats on the night of October 5th for the premier showing of Juan Mayorga’s Perpetual Peace, directed by Alistair Highet, director of communications, and translated by Dr. Jerelyn Johnson, Assistant Professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. Mayorga’s play was written as a response to the 2004 train bombing in Madrid that killed 191 people (including one of the playwright’s friends) and also investigates the moral implications of the use of torture on homeland security suspects. Perpetual Peace neither promotes the use of torture by the state nor condemns it; it merely gives arguments for both sides.
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Wednesday night’s show opened with a talk by Dr. Jocelyn Boryczka, co-director of Fairfield’s Peace and Justice Studies program, who mentioned Code Pink and the Freedom Flotilla. She stated that Perpetual Peace asks us to consider our responsibility and look beyond the curtain of assumptions as members of the human community.
The play consists of three dogs who are competing for the K7 collar that would give them the most coveted spot in state security. Casius is the veteran of the state security job who has a K7 collar and is administering the tests to the three applicant dogs. The three dogs – Odin, Immanuel, and John-John – all have distinct and dissimilar personalities. Odin is a cynic mutt who often tries sabotaging his competitors and refers to himself as a “professional,” implying to Casius that he should be honored to have him as part of the security team. He also has no form of ideology and will attack whomever security defines as the “bad guy,” whether they actually are or not. John-John is the youngest of the three and has been bred to be the “best” breed, causing her severe head pain. She is challenged by head pain due to being born with a brain too large for her head cavity, and impulsivity from her breed as part boxer. She attended a $18,000 training school where she became obsessed with the rules and now is unable to think critically for herself. Speaking to Casius, she says, “If you don’t give me the collar, you might as well sacrifice me,” and continues to explain her “need” for the job. When asked about the man holding her leash, she responds by saying that only a dog knows when a human is going to attack and it is that dog’s duty to be the man’s instinct; if the man falls, his dog falls with him.
Unlike Odin and John-John, Immanuel is a dog who had been through the severe trauma of being an underground fighting dog by his first owner. He uses thought and reasoning much more than the others and believes that he is still alive because he knew when to wait for his opportunity during any given fight. Those fights always ended in death, and he recalls that the one time he lost his patience he was scarred on the neck. After being removed from his first owner, he was placed with a young blind girl and lived with her for years as she went through school and finally to the University.
After the dogs are put through a series of three tests, Casius informs them that he is unable to make a decision as to who would receive the K7 collar and that a fourth test would be required. He and his female assistant state that each one of the applicants has an Achilles heel that is a problem when the protection of the world is at stake. Casius then pulls back a curtain in the room that reveals a prisoner who may or may not have information about terrorism. She makes the dogs understand the risks of torturing the man, but says there are too many innocent lives at stake to risk letting this one man live.
John-John is unable to respond to the test without clear orders and decides that too many innocent lives are at risk to not torture the man. Odin begins to yell and comes to the realization that the only one who will live is the one who wins the collar. Immanuel argues with the woman when she says that in order to save the law we must sometimes suspend it, explaining that he just needs to speak with the man because torturing him would result in becoming the very evil they are opposing. She responds that the war is metaphysical – a war of the spirit – and that torture is never acceptable.
Odin and John-John begin heading for the prisoner’s cell as Immanuel attempts to block their path, getting murdered in the process. In the end, Immanuel dies for his beliefs as John-John and Odin have now killed for theirs.
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