K. Mennem 6:15 p.m., May 21
J.T. Rogers' Blood & Gifts- at the La Jolla Playhouse - evolves into an intricate saga about the Russia-Afghanistan War. Though Rogers presents the information clearly, I suggest reading the program notes first. They give a useful timeline for the 10-year-long conflict.
Rogers does something I wish playwrights would do more often. For those wanting more information on the subject, he recommends a book: Steve Coll's Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.
Coll, a Washington Post foreign correspondent for 20 years, paints a huge canvas with remarkable precision. Along with the overview, Coll - and Blood & Gifts - examines the relationship between the CIA ("an agency full of people who had problems with authority") and ISI, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, which used U.S. and Saudi funds to train newly radicalized Islamic militants.
Early on, Coll introduces an operative named Howard Hart, who becomes the CIA's chief of station in Pakistan, 1981. Hart called himself an "intellectual activist." He believed that "any two Afghans created three factions" and that "one of the ways to manage a war properly is don't worry about the little details."
Hart in many ways served as the model for James Warnock, the CIA agent in Blood & Gifts. The agency told Hart: "You're a young man; here's your bag of money, go raise hell...just go out there and kill Soviets, and take care of the Pakistanis and make them do whatever you need to make them do."
The underlying mandate: escalate the costs of Soviet intervention in what, for the U.S. became a "pseudo-war" that spawned the Taliban, Al Qaeda and bin Laden and that left neither the Russians nor the Americans prepared for the "blowback" of "Afghanistan's storm."
Coll announced recently that he plans a second volume, updating the events through 2010.
On July 8, as part of its "Discovery Sunday Series," the La Jolla Playhouse will hold a post-performance discussion. Tim McGirk, former bureau chief and war correspondent for Time magazine, will discuss his experiences in Afghanistan. The event, moderated by KPBS Arts and Culture reporter Angela Carone, will begin after the Sunday matinee - around 4:30 p.m. - in the Mandell Wiess Forum Theatre.