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Thursday January 21st

UNC professor's play explores power and Donald Rumsfeld

It’s a play about Donald, about Rummy, about a former U.S. Defense secretary. But it is not — at least not explicitly — a play about Donald Rumsfeld.

“Donald” — originally a novella that peers into the consciousness of a high-ranking U.S. official subjected to his own interrogation procedures — premieres on stage Thursday at Manbites Dog Theatre in Durham.

Event Information
  • Thurs. to Sat., Jan. 26 to Feb. 11 at 8:15 p.m.
  • Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster Street in Durham
  • Tickets are $2 to $17, cash only.

The story is less of a political statement than it may seem, said Tony Perucci, an assistant communication studies professor at UNC who adapted the novella for the stage.

At the core of the story, he said, are broad questions of power that pertain to many — not only high profile officials like Rumsfeld.

“The question about how power operates, and how unchecked power dehumanizes both those subjected to it and those who perform it, has been a concern of mine,” said Perucci, who is also directing the show.

“We are trying not to preach to the choir, but to really examine what power does to people.”

The play follows Rumsfeld’s descent into madness and self-questioning, Perucci said.

The novella “Donald” was published in February and released simultaneously with Rumsfeld’s memoir “Known and Unknown.”

Eric Martin, who co-authored “Donald” with Stephen Elliott, said the release date was no coincidence.

“Obviously, we planned that,” Martin said.

Though unaware of Rumsfeld’s memoir when they began writing, he said they adjusted the book’s release date once they knew of the former Defense secretary’s memoir.

“We kind of set out on this strange journey — to take biographical information about Rumsfeld and super-collide it with the memoirs of the prisoners coming out of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib,” Martin said.

“The specifics have been stripped out, but a lot of the scenes in the play are taken directly from his biographies.”

If the title, release date and character names do not make the connection clear, the cover of the book is also a visible parody of Rumsfeld’s memoir.

But while the connections to Rumsfeld are obvious, discovering how to stage a performance composed largely of internal conflict was not.

Perucci said the set of the play is highly technical, and that the interrogation scenes proved difficult to translate to the stage.

“The challenge was to create an otherworldly experience,” he said.

“I wanted to create an environment where the audience is disoriented and taken to another kind of reality.”

Jay O’Berski, who plays Donald in the play, conceived a cell-like stage construction for his character. Video footage of Rummy — Donald’s ego — is projected on all sides of the cell throughout the performance.

“We didn’t know if it was possible to shoot all four projectors at the same time without it getting muddied, but it came out very clear,” O’Berski said.

Also clear, he said, was why college students should see the performance.

“(UNC) is training future leaders in all fields. Everybody who goes there is probably going to be somebody’s boss,” O’Berski said.

“It is necessary for those people to see a story about excess power and pride.”

Contact the Arts Editor at arts@dailytarheel.com.

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