For the final installment of this year's Out There series, the Walker Art Center is presenting the moving testimony of survivors, on both sides, of the Falklands War. Could you describe what, and when, that was? Be honest.
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The relative obscurity of the conflict adds poignancy to these soldiers' stories. This wasn't a generation-defining struggle like World War II or Vietnam or Iraq: it was a two-month tussle over South Atlantic islands totaling less land mass than the state of New Jersey.
If few Americans are familiar with the conflict, that's in part because U.S. troops weren't involved. Even in Britain, though, the 1982 fight is fading out of the popular consciousness, the former troops onstage at the McGuire Theater tell us. Not so much in Argentina, which sparked (and subsequently lost) the war when it tried to take possession of land that's been claimed by the United Kingdom since the early 1800s.
Minefield is a production directed by Lola Arias, an Argentine artist specializing in "documentary theater." The six onstage veterans recount their wartime experiences and allude to the process of creating the show, a process that included points of both community and contention.
This is living history, and as you watch the fluently-staged Minefield, you may have to keep reminding yourself that this isn't fiction and these aren't professional actors: These men actually fought in the Falklands, watching both friends and foes die. The men say they're often asked whether they killed anyone in the war, a question that's more charged and complicated than their interrogators realize.
A program note describes Mariana Tirantte's set as "a film set turned into a time machine." At center stage, two monumental white walls meet in a corner with a raised white floor, so the veterans can step up and be surrounded by projections of both live and archival footage. Often, they're counterposed with images of their younger selves from both personal and media photography.
The body of the show is a chronological account of the conflict, told from the perspectives of three Argentine men and three British men — including one member of the Gurkhas, an elite Nepalese fighting force that have fought, sometimes thanklessly, on behalf of the U.K. for two centuries. (Surtitles translate Spanish to English, and vice versa.)
It's quite a history lesson, but it's also a poignant lesson in the telling of history. The two sides have very different narratives about the war; they don't even use the same name for the islands, which the Argentines call the Malvinas. Amidst arguments over sovereignty stretching back to increasingly distant colonial machinations, these men share their specific, personal stories.
Part of the veterans' reason for agreeing to participate in the show, we learn, was that they've remained haunted by the foes they fought but never really knew. One British soldier recalls being devastated when he came upon a wounded Argentine who greeted him in English and, in his dying moments, spoke of Oxford.
One of the Argentine participants plays in a Beatles tribute band, and a few of his fellow veterans join him for a searing live rendition of "Get Back." Why is giving peace a chance, we're left to wonder, always so much easier said than done?
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