Scottish bagpipes, Scottish song, bonnets and kilts appear out of place on a battlefield in Fallujah where war is fought with 21st-century assault weapons and high tech artillery. In Black Watch, the acclaimed theater work from The National Theatre of Scotland, the Scottish infantrymen themselves seem misplaced; they are fighting in America's ill-conceived war in Iraq.
The striking production, directed by John Tiffany (who recently won the Tony Award for the acclaimed Broadway musical Once) has been performed worldwide and garnered many awards. In San Francisco, it is staged inside the Armory Community Center on the Mission's 14th Street.
Scotland's Royal Highland Regiment -- known as the Black Watch, has a venerated military history that dates back to early 1700s. The Armory, a castle-like fortress built in the Moorish revival style, was constructed in the early 20th century for the United States National Guard. Both the play's subject and its environment carry the ghosts of past wars, underscoring the inevitability and persistence of conflict. With stadium seating rising up on two sides of the expansive stage, the surroundings also evoke an arena where gladiators perform deadly spectacles.
Under John Tiffany's direction, the production is indeed a spectacle. But this is not a limb-by-limb close-up of dashing brave action figures firing hot-shot sniper rifles against a backdrop of fire and smoke. This war story is a poetic, impressionistic experience where choreographed masculinity and physical eloquence coexist with pugnacious, aggressive, crude, and bawdy dialogue. Intimate relationships are forged through dirty-minded vulgarities, chest-beating, and hair-trigger belligerence.