The Body of an American

The Body of an American

October 2 — November 4, 2012
In the Ellyn Bye Studio

By Dan O’Brien
Directed by Bill Rauch
Inspired in part by the book Where War Lives by Paul Watson
World Premiere

War reporter Paul Watson has witnessed some of the most devastating scenes in modern history, and created perhaps the most disturbing image of modern warfare: the photograph of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. As the ghosts of the tragedies he’s recorded bear down on him, his story catches the attention of playwright Dan O’Brien, who’s battling ghosts of his own. In locations as varied as Kabul, Los Angeles and the Canadian High Arctic, the two men form a tentative friendship in a quest for absolution. The Body of an American is the story of their relationship, and the roles each take in helping the other process the responsibilities, and the damages, of bearing witness.

The Body of an American was a highlight at JAW in 2011; PCS is pleased to welcome Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Bill Rauch for his first show here, part of our 25th Anniversary celebration.

Performance times:
Tuesday - Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Thursday matinees at noon

A full list of performances and dates will appear when you enter the ticketing section of the website.

The Body of an American runs approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

View the cast and creative team bios.

View the playbill for The Body of an American.

Learn more about accessibility options at PCS.

Performance Times

Evenings: Tuesday - Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Matinees: Saturday and Sundays at 2 p.m.,
Thursdays at noon

*Note: These are general performance times. Certain productions may have exceptions. View the season calendar for more information.

This show's run time will be posted below the synopsis at left near the date of the first performance.

Production blog

Behind the Lens of Photojournalism: Legendary Images

Behind the Lens of Photojournalism: Legendary Images

15 October 2012 & Posted by KellyC

With just one glance, some of the world’s most well-known photos can evoke a variety of emotions within us, leave us in a state of complete shock or happiness, or lead us to ask ourselves questions that might have never crossed our minds before. Some photographs have even had the power to “change mankind.”The Body of an American explores the ramifications of one such image, taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Paul Watson. Let’s look through the lens at 20 more famous images that, for various reasons, have left a lasting imprint long after the shutter was snapped.


Dan O’Brien, Playwright and Poet

11 October 2012 & Posted by Natalie Gilmore

Dan O’Brien, author of our current world premiere The Body of an American, is certainly a distinguished playwright. He has productions of his plays on stage at theaters of all sizes throughout the U.S., he has received numerous awards and fellowships. So it’s interesting to note that playwriting isn’t his only vocation. In addition to being a prolific playwright, Dan is a celebrated poet. His poems have been published in numerous literary journals. Catch a glimpse of his poetry prowess here.


Behind the Lens of Photojournalism: Can You Spot the Fake?

08 October 2012 & Posted by KellyC

The Body of an American broaches the subject of ethics and its role in photojournalism. Is it ethical to alter a photo in any way? Or to print a violent image of war? From photographers and editors to hoaxers and jokers, people across the spectrum have cropped, altered, combined and manipulated pictures to change the way they appear to the eye. Although ethics can be a mind-boggling topic to think about, let’s give it a shot and explore the ethics of photojournalism, as well as some famous “fake” images.



Art and photos for The Body of an American. View on Flickr »

Reviews and Features

Marty Hughley | The Oregonian [Review 10 Oct 2012]

Dan O’Brien’s play “The Body of an American,” in its world premiere by Portland Center Stage, is a story of war and war reportage, inspired by the experiences of Paul Watson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for a photo of a dead U.S. Army Ranger in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. Its strength—in many ways, but not all—is that it deals less with battlefield maneuvers and casualties than with wars within, the fight each of us in some way wages against private hurts and fears and alienation.

Given a spare yet fluidly theatrical production by Bill Rauch, the play recounts some of Watson’s journalistic exploits in Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, et al, but mostly tracks the fits and starts of the creative collaboration between Watson and O’Brien. William Salyers as Paul and Danny Wolohan as Dan each reveal subtle layers of discomfort, worry and sadness beneath adventure-man exteriors, even as both actors also shift in and out of numerous other roles, sometimes both portraying the same character in a given scene. Stark yet striking design work by James Ingalls (lighting), Eamonn Farrell (sound and projections) and Casi Pacilio (sound) vividly evoke a variety of places and moods.

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Barry Johnson | Oregon Arts Watch [Review 10 Oct 2012]

A couple of years ago, David Shields wrote a book called “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.” Some of it aggravated me quite a bit, especially when he insisted that “Hamlet” should be reduced to the soliloquies. Nonetheless, even a couple of years ago, I could tell he was onto something, because the explosion of memoirs, a manifestation of reality hunger, had already begun.

And it has continued, this desire for the real deal, the truth, subjective as it is. In these precincts we need only mention Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and Lidia Yuknavitch’s “The Chronology of Water,” yes? Especially “Wild,” Strayed’s account of her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, which was #1 for several weeks on the NYT’s best-seller list?

But this is actually a review of Portland Center Stage’s world premiere of Dan O’Brien’s “The Body of an American,” which opened over the weekend at Portland Center Stage, starring (and I do mean starring) Danny Wolohan and William Salyers, an interesting entanglement of memoir and biography brought to the stage.  We’ve seen performance memoirs before, from Spalding Gray to Mike Daisey, not to mention “memory plays” and autobiographical plays, “The Body of an American” is different in my experience: more explicitly memoir than the memory plays, more theatrical (in the traditional sense) than Gray or Daisey.

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Rebecca Jacobson | Willamette Week [Review 10 Oct 2012]

At the beginning of Dan O’Brien’s play, two actors introduce themselves as Paul Watson. One then speaks as Terry Gross, the familiar voice of NPR’s Fresh Air. Soon after, the other also adopts the radio host’s serene voice. A few lines later, the conversation draws in the playwright. Suddenly, it’s a rapid-fire exchange between three characters performed by only two men. Confounding yet not confusing, it’s a fitting opening to this intricate production.

Watson—the man doubly introduced in the play’s first lines—is a war journalist who won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for a photo of an American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. The image haunted Watson. He claims that as he snapped the shutter, the soldier spoke to him: “If you do this, I will own you forever.” O’Brien, the playwright, heard Watson interviewed on NPR in 2007 and sent him an email. The ensuing exchange led to The Body of an American, premiering at Portland Center Stage.

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