‘Dust’ invokes Greek tragedy to challenge conventions of 9/11

Andrew Black (Tommy Schrider) performs “The Osama Song” (a satirical cabaret number) at his radical bookstore in Richard Squires’ “A Blanket of Dust.” | Photo courtesy of Delphi Films

BY TRAV S.D. | The tragic events of September 11, 2001 brought about thousands of negative repercussions. Lives were lost and torn apart. Whole communities were devastated. Wars were fought. A rare positive effect, however, was that The Flea Theater, one of the closest performing arts venues to the World Trade Center, geographically went from being a five-year experiment to a permanently instituted arts organization. Then, in December 2001, the Flea commissioned Anne Nelson’s “The Guys,” a 9/11-inspired play and still their best-known production. Through June 30, the Flea will be the location for quite a different sort of play about those events: Richard Squires’ “A Blanket of Dust.”

While the conventional understanding of September 11 is that the catastrophic events of that day were a series of coordinated attacks on America by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, Squires’ play takes a controversial, hotly contested position more in line with the “Truther” movement. The play’s main character Diana Crane (played by Angela Pierce) is a woman whose husband is killed in the collapse of the North Tower. As the daughter of a powerful US Senator, she is able to gain access to information that eventually causes her to believe that 9/11 was an “inside job.” When neither press nor political leaders, including people close to her, will listen to her version of events, she resolves to take drastic measures to make the public aware of what she deems to be the truth.

“A Blanket of Dust” playwright Richard Squires. | Photo by Jonathan Slaff

“The original inspiration for the play came during the build-up to the Iraq invasion,” Squires recalled. “I was living near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, and I was in my living room watching the news and it was clear to me that the reason our leaders were giving for war against Iraq was fraudulent. And it occurred to me that if I could tell from where I was, then they must know on Capitol Hill, in Congress, and the White House… I asked myself, ‘What can one citizen do to protest and make people aware?’ And the idea came to me that you could immolate yourself in front of the White House and leave a note behind.”

As a political protest act in memory of a murdered loved one, the suicide is not unlike the self-sacrifice of Sophocles’ “Antigone,” and the homage is clear both in the text of Squires’ play, and in its marketing materials. He calls it a “political thriller,” though it is definitely one with a distinct political point of view.

According to Squires, “When I became acquainted with the forensic facts, I saw that the World Trade Center collapse was a controlled demolition, and I saw the link between 9/11 and the current wars in the Middle East, with 1.2 million civilian casualties and a cost of $5.6 trillion. Trump is talking about Iran now. It all stems from 9-11, the casus belli for this imperial march of conquest.”

As one source of his belief, Squires cited a petition signed by 3,000 members of the organization Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth. (For some numerical perspective, there are nearly 200,000 licensed architects and structural engineers in the US, making the petition account for slightly over 1.5 percent of them, if all the signatures are valid.)

“If we had a normal functioning media, ignoring 3,000 architects would be impossible,” Squires asserted. “One of the few public venues that are left where it’s possible to express all points of view just happens to be the theatre. It says something very positive about the theatre. Mavericks can still get a hearing.”

Directed by Christopher Murrah. June 7 to 30. Mon. through Sat. at 7pm, with Sat. matinees at 2pm. In previews June 7–11, opening night June 12. At The Flea Theater (20 Thomas St., btw. Broadway & Church). Visit ablanketofdust.com for tickets ($20-$40).

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