J.T. Rogers: Complex "Gifts"

June 6, 2012

This content is sourced from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

When J.T. Rogers’ play Blood and Gifts ”was in the midst of its off-Broadway run in 2011, the influential Council on Foreign Relations bought up the seats to one entire performance as a kind of field trip for diplomacy wonks and intelligence types.

The event was “like my Comic-Con,” Rogers told The New York Times then, name-dropping San Diego’s annual gathering of pop-culture tribes.

Now, Rogers’ globe-roving political thriller centered on 1980s Afghanistan has traveled to the actual Land of the Con — it begins performances at La Jolla Playhouse this week. And if the stakes in Blood and Gifts are a little higher (and relevant to real life) than in your typical superhero saga, the play still shares the same impulse to keep an audience engrossed.

“I’m an entertainer, I’m a teller of stories,” says Rogers, talking by phone from his Brooklyn home between trips to La Jolla. “I’m not a polemicist or an essayist or a historian.

“Yes, I want you to be shaken — but I want you to laugh, I want you to be surprised, I want you to get your time’s worth. If you go away and you think about my play for many days after, and mention it to someone else — that’s what I want when I go to the theater.”

The work, which Rogers describes as “a history play in the form of a thriller about cloak-and dagger-espionage,” was first seen in a shorter version as part of an 11-play cycle called The Great Game: Afghanistan.

Blood and Gifts has some kinship with the 2007 movie Charlie Wilson’s War, which chronicled a real-life congressman’s role in clandestine efforts to aid the Afghan mujahedeen against Soviet occupiers. But Rogers’ play takes in a broader swath of events and people, and covers a 10-year period starting in 1981.

After the play’s premiere, Rogers — known best for his earlier works Madagascar and The Overwhelming — revamped and expanded Blood and Gifts, whose full New York staging was directed by onetime San Diego theater maverick Bartlett Sher.

The director in La Jolla is Lucie Tiberghien, a wide-ranging, Swiss-born theater artist (and onetime ballet dancer) who helped Rogers develop early versions of both Blood and Gifts and The Overwhelming.

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