The fall of man:
The Bomb's gripping Act Two opener.
The fall of man:
The Bomb's gripping Act Two opener.
One of the most incredible things about The Bomb, which is a play about September 11, is that it was begun before September 11. The world-encompassing, 30-actor tour de force from the International Wow Company--which had a critically acclaimed run at the Flamboyan Theater two months ago and is now enjoying a return engagement--features a series of expressionistic vignettes set in a variety of locales, from a cartoonish hick town in Middle America to a Dionysian French café to the desert laboratories of the Manhattan Project. In its overall feel, The Bomb is very much a play about the defining event of our times: about America's reaction to terrorism, the ways our government may or may not have had a hand in creating that threat, and how average people coped after that awful day.

International Wow Artistic Director Josh Fox, who conceived and directed the show, explains that The Bomb started as a summer project for the company, with the title referring not to terrorism but to the atomic bomb--and to the slang term "the bomb," meaning a person with exceptional sex appeal. "It was about a connection between nuclear war and sex," explains Fox.

Like all Wow pieces, The Bomb began with a loose idea that was built upon by ongoing collaboration with a large cast. "It started out as a whimsical idea but it quickly became very important," Fox continues. "We were talking about postmodernism and this culture of the end of the world. I felt sort of sick of this idea that this is the last generation and the world is on the brink of all these different kinds of collapses. That was a notion that was sort of self-fulfilling; it was creating a lot of apathy, people not willing to take responsibility for things, not believing they could make a difference, a better world."

Then came September. Looking back, Fox is stunned at how some of the imagery that he and his cast had created for their summer production came dramatically, and painfully, to life. "We put it up for one night here at our space in Brooklyn as a showing on August 26th," he says. "What was crazy was, we had scenes where there were people wearing dust masks...we had scenes where there was primitive man...and those people were covered with a kind of clay. It was just a cool thing to do, a way to show primitive people. What was so insane was that September 11 happened at the end of our summer program and all those images got sort of spilled out into the city. And we freaked out."

Another moment from The Bomb
Another moment from The Bomb
But, after a brief hiatus, Fox and his cast were back at work on The Bomb. Inevitably, this project about love and violence, about the persistence of optimism in a world that seems about to end, was refocused on the painful realities of the new world. The second act now opens with an incredibly striking image: of a dust-covered man leaping from a window, where he is then suspended in permanent freefall above the stage, while the rest of the cast recreates the numbness and hysteria of New York in late September.

As its name suggests, Fox's company is made up of artists from around the world, and one of Fox's preoccupations is international relationships, specifically the ways American foreign policy has shaped the contemporary world; The Bomb is rife with such considerations. "I think that it's an extremely honest production, an extremely honest play, but it's not easy to be honest," Fox figures. "You have to look at the reasons behind 9/11. The production puts it in a light of 60 years worth of history, dating back to the atomic bomb. The A-bomb is really the root of our whole culture."

Though the play is for the most part fairly nuanced and wide-ranging in its approach to these issues, Fox speaks unequivocally on issues of American foreign policy, specifically the ongoing war in Afghanistan. He notes a recent New York Times article about an American raid on an Afghan village in which a number of civilians, including an elderly man and a three-year-old girl, were murdered.

"There's no way to justify this kind of war in moral terms," he says. "America has to stop being so arrogant, and realize that it is vulnerable, extremely vulnerable...America could forge a change with the whole world right now. We could say, 'We are not going to sink to your level, we are going to create a different world, change our policies.' The stakes are too high to be playing this game. If we continue to create enemies all over the world...well, it may be too late anyway. The United States government has to, very fast, go out there and try to make friends."

And in creating art that tries to challenge our ideas about these issues, Fox has a very clear motivation. "What we're doing in this play, what it feels like we're doing is fighting for our lives. Fighting to stay in a peaceful America, a peaceful world."