At its best, theater can immediately connect an audience with unknown and unseen parts of the world. On this level, In Service -- an evening of images and spoken words about the occupation of Iraq, presented by Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Bricolage Theatre -- does a remarkable job giving voice to a group conspicuous by its absence in corporate media.
In Service is not, nor does it want to be, "theater." Video footage and photos shot in and about Iraq are screened; poems and short essays are read aloud. There are filmed interviews with Pittsburghers who've spent time there; on stage, people tell or read about their experiences.
But ... by design, In Service is interested only in the micro view of the war; Bricolage's Jeffrey Carpenter has conceived and directed it that way, which is certainly his highly defensible choice. And perhaps I shouldn't expect something that was never intended. But the war didn't begin, and doesn't continue, in a vacuum. Yet in In Service, the macro context -- the whens, whys and how-comes -- is either never addressed or brushed aside as inconsequential. Likewise the points of view of any Iraqis.
Let me be very clear: In Service is by no stretch a mindless, jingoistic paean to American military might; the stories are textured and intelligent. But they are what they are: Namely, the recollections of people whose only concern was to stay alive for another day.
Completely missing is any examination of why and how the young men and women were so blithely deployed to that hell. Time and again you find yourself aching for Carpenter to, in a sense, pull the camera back and expand the frame. This absence is most chilling during an interview with an assistant to L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. official who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority that ruled Iraq after the invasion. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the occupation knows that the incompetence of this ideological hack rose to treasonous levels ... and yet the assistant chatters happily away about how the staff spent its time thinking up clever catch phrases for Bremer to toss off at press briefings.
In a way, In Service feels like Dr. Strangelove with the War Room scenes edited out. Politically, it's maddening, and dramaturgically it feels incomplete. In Service is interesting, but it needs to be much more.
In Service continues through Oct. 14. Harris Theater, 809 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-456-6666.