Photos by Right Image Photography Inc.

THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA by David Edgar

Plot Summary

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.

The Seminar
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

The Messenger

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

The Handshake

1st ORDERLY, Swiss / Mikaela Saccoccio

2nd ORDERLY, Swiss / Greg Paul

The Checkpoint

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

The Ship

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

The Exercise

ASLAN, 12 / David Skaggs

PARAMILITARY, Afghan origin, 38 / Joey Greg Paul

2nd PARAMILITARY, 20s / Joey Heyworth

Production History

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