Body of an American

Tom Nissley

Paul Watson is a rogue Canadian journalist who travels the world keeping abreast of its trouble-spots. In Mogadishu, in 1993, he took a picture of the body of Sgt. William David Cleveland being dragged through the streets in desecration, which later earned him a Pulitzer Prize. As he took the picture, he said he heard a voice saying, “If you do this, I will own you forever.”

When Watson described that memory on National Public Radio Dan O’Brien was immediately interested and began email correspondence with Watson, eventually succeeding in becoming a regular, of sorts, but for a long time trying to get a phone number and arrange a way to get together -- to visit Watson. Finally, during an assignment in the ARTIC, Watson relented and invited O’Brien to join him there, and the two men got to know each other in person.

“The Body of an American” tells the story of Paul Watson’s journalism, but more than that, it tells the story of how Paul and Dan became pen pals and the much deeper relationship that developed between them. Whatever it was that caught Dan’s attention in Paul’s story, it caught him hard enough to initiate a deep exploration of what attracted them to each other. Parts of their stories reflect dysfunctional stuff in their families of origin. And we -- the audience -- have the awkward opportunity to listen spellbound as two actors replay it for us.

The actors, Michael Cumpsty (Paul), and Michael Crane (Dan) bring a remarkable intimacy to the performance -- something of a challenge in the large expanse of Hartford Stage. They are aided by expert direction (Jo Bonney) and a handsome background of a set design (Richard Hoover) that stretches sea-blanched boards horizontally with enough surface to show amazing projections (Alex Basco Koch) that often illuminate the story. Ilona Somogyi’s costumes are sparse. Lap Chi Chu’s lighting is precise, and the sound design by Darron L. West follows and amplifies the script amazingly.

Definitely worth a visit. Tickets and information at or 860-527-5151

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre


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