David Hare’s Stuff Happens, Now Playing at Burning Coal in Raleigh, Is Excellent

Stuff Happens, a 2004 West End, 2005 Los Angeles, and 2006 Off-Broadway play by Sir David Hare, now playing in Burning Coal Theatre Company’s Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh, NC, gets its name from a comment made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during President George W. Bush’s first term. He referred to the after-battle rioting and looting that took place in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was ousted and a pent-up populace vented its repressed angers on the former regime.

Hare’s two hour and 20-minute play includes some 40 characters, most of whom are unnamed, but speak authoritatively, perhaps quoting news or government or historical reports of actions at the time. The principals: Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are each played by one actor each. The remaining ensemble all play multiple roles, which include CIA director George Tenet, First Lady Laura Bush, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission head Hans Blix, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, U.S. diplomat John Negroponte, U.S. Senator John McCain, Tony Blair spokesman Alastair Campbell, and others, one of whom is, believe it not — cellist Yo-Yo Ma!

Burning Coal guest director Lillian Wooten White puts this 15-artist cast through a basic training regimen, entering, exiting, moving furniture, being here and then there, and manages it all with the fluidity of ballet. Scene upon scene flashes by like the stills of the old five-cent movie machines, which the mind interprets as motion and story.

Burning Coal Theatre Company's <em>Stuff Happens</em> cast includes (from left) Matthew Baldiga as Tony Blair, Michael Babbitt as George W. Bush, and Tyanna West as Condoleezza Rice (photo by Areon Mobasher)
Burning Coal Theatre Company‘s Stuff Happens cast includes (from left) Matthew Baldiga as Tony Blair, Michael Babbitt as George W. Bush, and Tyanna West as Condoleezza Rice (photo by Areon Mobasher)

Lighting and scenery designer E.D. Intemann has created an essentially open and bare stage, with the Great Seal of the United States painted in the center, and the POTUS desk and a handful of armchairs the only permanent (although very mobile) pieces of furniture. Other pieces appear and are virtually swept off as needed. A set of five TV screens is placed fore and aft to display the various news activities of the time, courtesy of Dogbotic.

Ketti Shum’s costumes are professional business suits, as such people wear, and a Stetson Hat and possibly Stetson boots for President Bush. The multi-role actors wear grey pullovers and pants, and occasional character-appropriate bits to enhance their person-shift.

Most of us lived through this time and bear strong feelings about these real people. In the opinion of these reporters, President George W. Bush (played by Michael Babbitt) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (Byron Jennings II) felt very much like the two people that we had seen on newscasts during the early 2000s. Babbitt’s Bush is terse, mildly hesitant, unconnected; Jenkins seems to catch the very essence of the man. Powell has all the good lines, and Jennings finds the man’s frustration and incredible loyalty to the Constitution in his portrayal of him.

Vice President Dick Cheney is captured by Rob Jenkins, the little smug, self-satisfied facial expressions, the almost skip in his walk, the Frat-house leadership demeanor. Well done!

<em>Stuff Happens</em> stars Rob Jenkins as Vice President Dick Cheney (photo by Areon Mobasher)
Stuff Happens stars Rob Jenkins as Vice President Dick Cheney (photo by Areon Mobasher)

Brook North paints a fine portrait of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, managing to forego imitating the Secretary’s jaw-jutting speech mannerisms, and delivers a very believable Rumsfeld for us.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is perfectly played by Matthew Baldiga, with Blair’s looks, voice, and demeanor.

CIA director George Tenet is played by Julie Hall Oliver with success. She also doubles in several anonymous roles, which were individually distinct.

The entire ensemble is superb, many changing characters so fast that it was surprising, and moving at double-step speed at most times, delivering meaningful and heartfelt lines.

For a little refresher of our recent history, and a fine display of high-pressure acting Stuff Happens at Burning Coal is excellent entertainment.

<em>Stuff Happens</em> stars Michael Babbitt as President George W. Bush (photo by Areon Mobasher)
Stuff Happens stars Michael Babbitt as President George W. Bush (photo by Areon Mobasher)

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 13th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9126.

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents STUFF HAPPENS at 2 p.m. Oct. 14, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18-20, 2 p.m. Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25-27, and 2 p.m. Oct. 20 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St. Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.

TICKETS: $25 ($15 students, teachers, and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except “Pay-What-You-Can” Day on Sunday, Oct. 14th, $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), $15 Thursdays, and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or https://burningcoal.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S6A000000rFloUAE.

SHOW: https://burningcoal.org/stuff-happens/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1978490262207343/.

STUDY GUIDE: https://burningcoal.org/wp-content/uploads/Study-Guide-for-STUFF-HAPPENS.pdf.

2018-19 SEASON: http://burningcoal.org/season/.

PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.

VENUE/DIRECTIONS: http://burningcoal.org/murphey-school-auditorium/.

NOTE 1:The 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14th, show is “Pay-What-You-Can” Day.

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14th, performance.


Stuff Happens (2004 West End, 2005 Los Angeles, and 2006 Off-Broadway play): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/4287 (Internet Off-Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuff_Happens (Wikipedia).

Sir David Hare (British playwright, screenwriter, and director): https://www.britannica.com/biography/David-Hare-British-playwright-and-director (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/david-hare (British Council: Literature bio), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/14037 (Internet Off-Broadway Database) https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/david-hare-27017 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002376/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hare_(playwright) (Wikipedia).

Lillian Wooten White (director): https://lillianwootenwhite.com/ (official website) and https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006929595739 (Facebook page).


Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.