The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Burning Coal TheatreIt’s not every day that a local theater company offers an American premiere from a playwright for the Royal Shakespeare Company, much less a company in the Triangle. David Edgar’s The Prisoner’s Dilemma is the third in a trilogy of plays that began with The Shape of the Table and the award-winning Pentecost. Drawn from the political quagmires of post-Cold War Europe, Dilemma offers a series of complex moral and ethical scenarios that often take the form of old logic puzzles such as the titular one, where two prisoners are kept in separate cells and are each given the chance to betray the other. Applying this cold logic to real-world situations isn’t as easy as it looks, as the play’s characters soon discover.
Based in part on information from books on peace negotiation Edgar researched, Dilemma opens in a university in Southern California in 1989, where a group of delegates discuss various models of peace negotiation. The characters soon spread around the world, from Finland to the former Soviet Republic of Kavhkazia, where the local population and a Muslim province are both vying for statehood. Scenes take place behind the closed doors where negotiations are ongoing, and with the aid workers in the contested territory who are trying to help the citizens despite the impediments of bureaucracy. Though it was written in 2001 and premiered shortly before Sept. 11, the play has an eerie parallel to many issues in real-world politicsand might prove useful to anyone who’s baffled by what’s at stake in the Georgia conflict. The show runs through Sept. 28 at the Meymandi Theatre at the Murphey School. For more information, visit www.burningcoal.org. Zack Smith