TAMPA — It's odd that a work so young can seem so dated.
Tim Robbins wrote Embedded five years ago, in what has turned out to be the early days of the Iraq War — back around the time President Bush stood before that "Mission Accomplished" banner.
The work, which is more of a performance piece than a play, is a didactic, unsubtle and often shrill look at the causes of that war, and particularly at the media's acquiescence in it. The reporters portrayed are, mostly, complicit and compliant cogs in the military machine.
Meanwhile, presidential advisers lustily conspire about how they can dupe the populace into accepting the war, with the media's help.
Five years ago, perhaps these ideas seemed bold, and the depictions of Bush advisers shocking. Now, though, we're more likely to view them with a shrug than a gasp.
Besides, the events that make up much of the show in Embedded now seem like the stuff of nostalgia, not topical satire. (Remember Jessica Lynch? Yellowcake? The toppling of the Saddam statue?) The show is "ripped from the headlines," as the promotional material says, but the headlines are a half-decade old.
The show's hodgepodge structure — it's almost a collection of related skits — seems even more antiquated, recalling (perhaps consciously) anti-war shows that were popular on college campuses in the '60s and '70s.
In the current Jobsite Theater production at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, co-directors David M. Jenkins and Shawn Paonessa ramp up the play's silliness, its hysteria and its volume. Their approach, with effective use of brash music and slide-show commentary, suits Robbins' material perfectly.
But the script and the production both fare best during the very human vignettes that punctuate the bombast. A touching opening scene has soldiers saying goodbye to their loved ones as they go off to war. One of the few ethical reporters, played appealingly by Meg Heimstead, recounts with fear and sadness an errant bomb attack. A fictionalized account of the Jessica Lynch story, with a poignant performance by Betty-Jane Parks, is perhaps the show's most profound and effective anti-war statement.
Some of the best acting comes during those repeated segments with the presidential advisers. Even though the actors' faces are hidden behind masks (in case you can't tell which cabinet members Robbins has given such ham-handed names as "Gondola," "Cove" and "Rum-Rum"), their gestures are phenomenally evocative. Those scenes are among the most annoying aspects in the script, but they end up being passably enjoyable thanks to the directors and the cast.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.