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What is it good for? 

Fifty minutes seems like scarcely enough time to contend with a theme as far-reaching as war, but that's the ambition of PushPush Theater's War Plays. The four short works offer pertinent perspectives on war and its causes, and while they're all very timely, the evening feels like it only half-engages with its subject.

Lauren Gunderson performs in her own short play, "Steel," playing a young woman on a bridge at night who strikes up a conversation with a cryptic, unseen man (Nick Rhoton). "Steel" hauntingly repeats the words "stupid, mean and ugly" to evoke the consequences of war, and Gunderson is so dimly lit her face looks like a photographic afterimage. The haunting visual effect becomes frustrating as we can't really see her act.

Playwright Harold Pinter wrote the brief poem "American Football" to satirize U.S. self-congratulation after the first Gulf War. Like a drunken U.S. sports fan, Joshua Waterstone booms lines like, "We blew the shit out of them! Praise the Lord!" The most striking thing about the poem is how a writer so known for his ambiguity could write a work so strident and obvious.

Waterstone plays in similar key as a jingoistic soldier at a dinner party in Murphy Guyer's "Loyalties." Waterstone's soldier and Rhoton's poet get into an argument about patriotism, which the writer suggests is based on conformity and cowardice. Guyer offers an eloquent polemic, but the O. Henry-style twist ending is heavy-handed, and the staging never feels like real people actually dining together.

War Plays saves its secret weapon for last. Betty Shemiah builds her monologue "Tamam" on deeply felt details about a young woman of Gaza and her relationship with her brother. Suehyla El-Attar effectively plays Tamam's passion and bitterness as she describes shocking Israeli brutality against the Palestinians, with her mention of "Arab Torture Specialists" being the least of it. Tamam emerges as such a real person that the program's other characters seem like editorial cartoons by comparison, and War Plays comes to a close when you feel like it's just getting started.


War Plays plays through June 8 at PushPush Theater, 1123 Zonolite Road, Suite 3. 8 p.m. Tues.-Wed. and 5 p.m. Sun. $12. 404-892-7876. www.pushpushtheater.com.

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