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Three Years and Counting

During the course of the war in Iraq, and in the years prior to the invasion, writer Eliot Weinberger has been listening. He's listened to a variety of voices--ranging from the president to military personnel to Iraqi shopkeepers. And he's heard a lot.

"I heard the president say: 'I'm a war president. ... For a while, we were marching to war. Now we're marching to peace.' ... I heard a reporter ask Lt. Gen. Jay Garner how long the troops would remain in Iraq, and I heard him reply: 'I hope they're there a long time.' ... I heard that, in a city of 150 mosques, there were no longer any calls to prayer. ... I heard Muhammad Kubaissy, a shopkeeper, say: 'I am still searching for what they have been calling democracy.'"

A series of these "I heard" statements make up the article, "What I Heard About Iraq," published in the London Review of Books in February 2005.

In the fall of 2005, playwright/director Simon Levy adapted the article for the stage. It was performed by five actors at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. The play incorporates direct quotes from politicians, military chiefs, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens into the dialogue. The actors take the role of the person being quoted.

"The play is neither fiction nor speculation; it takes us into the war and confronts us with the human drama, the human toll. This is not about history or about something going on 'over there.' This is about what's going on here, in America, now," says Levy.

Lyric Arts and Old Pueblo Playwrights will present the Tucson production of What I Heard in Iraq on Monday, March 20, marking the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The 85-minute performance starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Cabaret Theater at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. A reception will follow. Tickets are $10, available at the door, or by calling 682-3224. For more information, e-mail iraq2006benefit@yahoo.com.

Lyric Arts is a multi-art group offering classes in painting, drawing, paper engineering, theater, acting and writing. Founder and artistic director Ken Tesoriere is an award-winning playwright.

Tesoriere, a Vietnam veteran, says producing the play is a personal issue for him. "I had to do something that puts a voice out there for how we got into the war and how we were 'used' to get to where we are. ... It's my way of doing something and being heard."

In Tesoriere's adaptation, six actors will use a bare stage and minimal props to present the play. "I took what (Levy) did and expanded it. I took the original and added much more of a balanced, broader view."

And with his new adaptation, Tesoriere is clear on what it is not. "This is not a lefty piece. This is fact--the strongest way to present the story. This is not a rant. I didn't make the facts and figures."

Quoting information from various sources, including The New York Times, iraqbodycount.net, Iraq Veterans Against the War (ivaw.net), The National Coalition of Homeless Vets (nchv.org) and nationalpriorities.org, Tesoriere is often disgusted by the figures he sees.

"It costs us $1,000 per second (to fight this war). In the course of the time people will listen to this show, Americans will have spent $5.4 million on the war," he says.

Tesoriere is also eager to point out the discouraging reality of veterans as a whole. He quotes statistics at the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans Web site: Between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans will be homeless at some point during the year. The VA reaches 20 percent of those in need.

And as you go to sleep this evening, note that the VA estimates nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.

All of the money raised by the Tucson performance of What I Heard in Iraq will support veteran groups. Tesoriere and the actors will not be paid. Ticket holders will be able to choose which charity their donation goes to: The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Iraq Veterans Against the War or t he Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services Fund.

On the night of the performance here, The Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles will also present the play with its original cast. But it doesn't stop there. Theater groups around the country will have readings of the play, all the way from Albany, N.Y., to Atlanta to Maui. International groups will have readings of the article in 12 countries, including India, Germany, Australia and Cyprus. For more information on the worldwide readings, visit the Fountain Theatre Web site.

In our corner of the world, Tesoriere says he wants people to walk away from the performance and "not to be silent anymore. ... If you don't like what is going on, make noise. Speak up if you don't like it. Do something. Speak up. Please."

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