A photojournalist travels to hot spots and war zones to capture a picture and report a story. The job is risky and dangerous. For Canadian Paul Watson. it is also life-altering and haunting. The true story of one moment in time changed his life forever and occurred in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 and is preserved for posterity in Dan O’Brien’s moving tribute “The Body of an American” coming to startling life at Hartford Stage until Sunday, January 31.
Bearing witness to the civil war raging in Mogadishu, Watson is appalled by the sight of a mob of 200 dragging the body of an American soldier through the streets of the city, beating and spitting on it. As Watson pauses to frame the image, he clearly hears the voice of the victim, Sergeant William David Cleveland, announce “If you do this, I will own you forever.”
Hearing Cleveland’s voice as a ghost, Watson nevertheless snaps the shutter and takes the photo that will ultimately win him the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1994 and persuade President Clinton to change America’s foreign policy.
Years later playwright Dan O’Brien heard Watson on the NPR radio show Fresh Air, talking about his recently published book “Where War Lives” and reached out to connect by email. Although Watson is loath to return messages, the two start a tentative online conversation. In 2010, O’Brien finds himself traveling to the Arctic to meet the elusive reporter in person and the reality of writing a play about their unusual friendship is finally born.
With Michael Cumpsty as Watson and Michael Crane as O’Brien, “The Body of an American” is a shatteringly detailed narrative of the ghosts that trouble both men. Compelling insights are signposts, thanks to the intriguing projects designed by Alex Basco Koch, that mark the journey of the pair as they come to terms with life events. Jo Bonney directs this starkly human tale of ultimate acceptance and redemption.
For tickets ($25 and up), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Come discover how one moment in time, in this case one intensely seared photograph on a psyche, can have lasting repercussions even decades later.