The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Photos by Right Image Photography Inc.
THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA by David Edgar
Written between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the September 11th terrorist attacks and inspired by the Oslo accords of the early ‘90s, The Prisoner’s Dilemma concerns the “politics of torture” and the process of negotiation between ethnic groups, both theoretical and in truth.
The play takes us from the simulated, intellectual negotiations between opposed forces in a university seminar to the gritty reality in an eastern European nation eight years later with the violent interrogation of a bound, naked man. Two months further on, two of the seminar participants are engaged in a real negotiation: Gina, a Finnish diplomat trying to broker a deal between Roman Litvinyenko , editor and Professor Nikolai Shubkin, professor and military historian, Christians, representing the government of the fictional former Soviet Republic of Kavkhazia, and Kelima Bejta of the Muslim Drozhdan People’s Front and Hasim Majdani, a Drozdhan medical director. The negotiations proceed on a razor edge to a hard fought agreement, only to fall apart three months later.
The scene switches to aid workers in Kavkhazstan, two more from the seminar group, Floss and James overseen by a NATO peacekeeping soldier, trying to get food and medical supplies past a Kavkhazian checkpoint to the Drozdhanis. A potentially volatile situation erupts into impossible choices and bloodshed. The final portion of high level negotiations involves the Americans and the issue of where the oil pipeline will run, culminating in a final scene in which the aid worker Floss uses what she has learnt to protect a group of women from an area controlled by foreign soldiers who are meant to be acting in their interest.
Themes & Parallels
As with the rest of the Cold War trilogy, the theme of language runs through the piece. The exchange at the top of the play between two simulated sides of a political negotiation describes the importance that words have in such compromises.
“You say ‘cessation.’ I hear ‘surrender.’”
“You say ‘people’s army.’ I hear ‘terrorist conspiracy.’”
Arguably the play can also be interpreted as a critique of western diplomacy, which often reduces factions of a nation into sides of a game to be played and won rather than real people who’s lives hang in the balance of negotiations. The play is similarly critical of the political grandstanding and games of ‘chicken’ political actors often feel the need to play, with parties refusing to back down until its too late to avoid war.
Characters and Actors
View clip here.
JAMES Neil, Irish, b.1962 / Max Hanau
FLOSS Weatherby, British, b.1950 / Julie Oliver
AL Bek, American, b.1962 / Jon Fitts
PATTERSON Davis, American, b.1961 / Gil Faison
GINA Olsson, Finnish, b.1956 / Jeanine Bossen
TOM Rothman, American Professor, b.1942 / Marc Carver
NIKOLAI Shubkin, Kavkhazian, b.1947 / Jeff Aguiar
1st DROZHDAN, 20s / Greg Paul
KELIMA Bejta, Drozhdani, b.1968 / Rebecca Bossen
2nd DROZHDAN, late 30s / Max Hanau
The Finland Channel
JAN Olsson-Trask, 12 / David Skaggs
ERIK Trask, 45 / Brook North
ROMAN Litvinyenko, Kavkhazian b.1960 / Thaddeus Walker
HASIM Majdani, Drozhdani, b.1945 / Rajeev Randjaran
1st ORDERLY, Swiss / Mikaela Saccoccio
2nd ORDERLY, Swiss / Greg Paul
TREVELYAN, British, 33 / Greg Paul
EMELA, Drozhdan, 24 / Mikaela Saccoccio
LEN, British, 30s / Gil Faison
1st KAVKHAZIAN SOLDIER, 30s / Rajeev Randjaran
2nd KAVKHAZIAN SOLDIER, 40s / Thaddeaus Walker
FATHER, 47 / Marc Carver
MOTHER, 35 / Jeanine Frost
YOUNG MAN, 20 / Joey Hayworth
BOY, 12 / David Skaggs
SAILOR, American, female / Mikaela Saccoccio
ZELIM Zagayev, Drozdhani, 20s / Greg Paul
YURI VASILEVICH Petrovian, Kavkhazian President, 52 / Tom McCleister
LOU Wasserman, 52, American / Jeff Aguari
ASLAN, 12 / David Skaggs
PARAMILITARY, Afghan origin, 38 / Joey Greg Paul
2nd PARAMILITARY, 20s / Joey Heyworth
|25 July 2001||RSC/The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon||Directed by Michael Attenborough|
|11 September 2008||Burning Coal Theatre, Raleigh, NC||Directed by Jerome Davis|