Ajax in Iraq

Tony Nelson

Ajax in Iraq is like a stomach punch—a messy, disturbing merging of the ancient tale of Ajax going mad on the beaches of Troy and similar events playing out amid the sand of modern-day Iraq. It's not a pretty or always cohesive piece, but the overall effect is gut-wrenching. From the main characters to the chorus (made up of both Greek and U.S. soldiers), the overwhelming effects of war on the men and women who fight it play out. At the center is A.J., an American woman nearing the end of her first tour. Others have noticed her odd behavior of late, but they all have their own problems to deal with, in their heads and in trying to stay alive. A.J.'s issues play out against those of Ajax, who we find already in the arms of madness. In ancient Troy, his rage against his leaders has been turned by Athena toward a different target. In Iraq, A.J. has reasons to take up arms against her own commanding officer but also finds a different target. Ellen McLaughlin's script has considerable empathy for the soldiers, letting them speak about their lives both in Iraq and back home. At times the script seems to have trouble finding its focus, taking side trips such as introducing Gertrude Bell, the British writer and political administrator who drew up the borders of modern-day Iraq. In the end, these issues don't matter, as the performances—especially Katie Guentzel as A.J.—strip away the distractions and leave us with a heartbreaking tale. $20-$22. 2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.724.3760. Through November 27

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