Press Releases

14.15 The Body of an American

Contact: Sara Madden
215-893-9456 ext. 102 |

December 2014

The Wilma Theater continues its 2014/15 season with Dan O’Brien’s award-winning play, The Body of an American, inspired by the book Where War Lives by Paul Watson
Including special events with photojournalist Paul Watson, playwright Dan O’Brien, and director Michael John Garcés throughout the run

January 7 – February 1, 2015

PHILADELPHIA – In a time when the risks of being a war journalist are making headline news The Wilma Theater continues to explore the complexities of contemporary life with Dan O’Brien’s The Body of an American directed by Michael John Garcés. In 1993, Canadian photojournalist Paul Watson took a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. As he shot the picture, Watson believes he heard the soldier say to him: “If you do this, I will own you forever.” Playwright Dan O’Brien was finishing a residency in Princeton when he heard Paul Watson tell this story on Fresh Air in 2007. Also obsessed by the idea of hauntings, Dan reached out to Paul and the two formed an unusual relationship spanning time and continents. The Body of an American is the story of their friendship, one conducted primarily by e-mail but eventually leading them to a meeting inside the Arctic Circle. The roles of Dan and Paul are shared by two actors, who also play over twenty other characters that the men encounter. A contemporary war story encompassing personal and global histories that’s told in strikingly theatrical fashion, The Body of an American breaks boundaries of convention in both content and form.

The Body of an American begins on Wednesday, January 7, 2015; opens on Wednesday, January 14, 2015; and closes on Sunday, February 1, 2015.

Critics and members of the press are invited to attend Press Night on Wednesday, January 14, at 7:30pm. For ticket arrangements, contact Sara Madden at or 215.893.9456 x102.

When asked how his friendship with Paul Watson changed his life, Dan O’Brien noted, “When I first started writing, as a kid and as a young man, writing was an escape from reality, a way to act out emotional problems on the page and then on the stage; now I want my work to change the way I live, to bring me back from fantasy and towards a greater engagement with reality, towards connection, to bring me into contact with people like Paul, whose stories I find fascinating and/or disturbing and/or inspiring, and then to do what I can to help tell those stories.” When Paul Watson was asked the same question he replied, “Dan has led me over important ground, and to me, his art is in expressing painful truths that pure journalism can’t capture. So, more and more, I prefer to avoid war and related subjects unless I can face them with Dan. It’s less painful, and I trust him to tell hard truths in ways that touch people’s hearts.”   

Production History
The Body of an American is based on the book Where War Lives by Paul Watson. The World Premiere of The Body of an American was produced by Portland Center Stage, Portland, OR, under Chris Coleman, Artistic Director, and was workshopped at JAW: A Playwrights Festival, produced by Portland Center Stage. The play was commissioned and developed with support from The Playwrights’ Center 2009-2010 McKnight Commission and Residency Program, Minneapolis, MN. The Body of an American received its UK premiere in 2014 at the Gate Theatre in London. The Body of an American won the 2014 Horton Foote Prize for Outstanding New American Play, the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama in 2014, the PEN Center USA Award for Drama in 2013, and the L. Arnold Weissberger Award in 2011.

About the Playwright
Dan O’Brien’s previous regional and off-Broadway productions include The Cherry Sisters RevisitedThe Dear BoyThe Voyage of the CarcassMoving PictureThe House in HydesvilleKey WestKandahar to CanadaAm LitThe Angel in the Trees, and Lamarck. Dan also wrote the libretti for Jonathan Berger's Visitations: Theotokia & The War Reporter, two chamber operas commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mellon Foundation for Stanford Live. Dan's plays have been developed at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Atlantic Theater Company, Primary Stages, Roundabout Theatre Company, American Conservatory Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, Magic Theatre, The Play Company, Rattlestick, Lark Theatre, Lincoln Center Directors’ Lab, PlayLabs, New Harmony Project, JAW Festival at Portland Center Stage, and Manhattan Theatre Club, where he was a playwright-in-residence. He has received commissions from Manhattan Theatre Club, Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan Foundation, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Geva Theatre Center, and Trinity Repertory Company, and residencies and fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center, Princeton University's Hodder Fellowship, Yaddo, O’Neill Playwrights Conference, the McKnight National Residency and Commission from the Playwrights’ Center, a Sundance Institute Time Warner Storytelling Fellowship, a TCG Future Collaborations Grant, a James Merrill House Residency, the Djerassi Fellowship in Playwriting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Tennessee Williams Playwright-in-residence at The University of the South (Sewanee), the New Harmony Project, and the Thomas J. Watson Foundation. Awards include the Osborn Award for an Emerging Playwright by the American Theatre Critics Association, the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Comedy Playwriting Award, the National Student Playwriting Award, the National AIDS Award for Playwriting (Kennedy Center / ACTF), and he was shortlisted for the 2014 London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Most Promising Playwright. Dan is currently under commission from Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles to write a play with music on the history of the California economy with Grammy-winning composer Quetzal Flores, as well as an American Revolutions joint commission from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theatre on the history of guns in America. 

Dan’s collections of poetry are Scarsdale, published by CB Editions in London in 2014, and War Reporter, published in 2013 with Hanging Loose Press in Brooklyn and CB Editions in London. 

Dan has taught playwriting at Princeton University, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The University of the South (Sewanee), University of Wisconsin-Madison, SUNY Purchase, and in his own private workshop in New York City. He holds a BA in English and Theatre from Middlebury College and an MFA in Playwriting and Fiction from Brown University.  

About the Director
Michael John Garcés directed The Convert by Danai Gurira last season at the Wilma. Michael has been the Artistic Director at Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles, CA since 2006. Directing credits at Cornerstone include The Tempest adapted by Alison Carey, Plumas Negras by Juliette Carrillo, Café Vida by Lisa Loomer, Making Paradise by Tom Jacobson, La Puma  by Shishir Kurup and Deborah Wicks, 3 Truths by Naomi Iizuka, Someday by Julie Marie Myatt, attraction by Page Leong, and The Falls by Jeffrey Hatcher (at the Guthrie Theater). Directing credits at other theaters include Wrestling Jerusalem by Aaron Davidman (Intersection for the Arts), We Are Proud to Present… by Jackie Sibblies Drury (Woolly Mammoth Theatre), The Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis (South Coast Repertory) and red, black and GREEN: a blues by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, which premiered at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, was recently presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and was seen in Philadelphia last year at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.  

Michael is the recipient of the Rockwood Arts and Culture Fellowship, the Princess Grace Statue, the Alan Schneider Director Award, a TCG/New Generations Grant, the Nonprofit Excellence Award from the Center for Nonprofit Management, and is a Southern California Leadership Network Fellow. He is a company member at Woolly Mammoth and a proud alumnus of New Dramatists.

About Paul Watson
Paul has been a photojournalist for the Toronto Star and The Los Angeles Times. While working for The Los Angeles Times he was based in Jakarta as the South Asia bureau chief, covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Iraq. In his current position with the Toronto Star he covers Afghanistan and the Arctic-Aboriginal beat as a multi-media reporter. Paul was awarded the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography for the image he took in Mogadishu during the civil war in Somalia. Other awards include three National Newspaper Awards, the Robert Capa Gold Medal, and the South Asian Journalist’s Association’s Daniel Pearl Award.

Released in August of 2007, Paul’s book Where War Lives was named one of the “year’s 100 most notable books” by The Globe and Mail of Toronto.

Cast and Design Team
The cast features Ian Merrill Peakes (Invention of Love) as Paul and Harry Smith (The Real Thing; Rapture, Blister, Burn) as Dan.  

The artistic team includes Set Designer Mikhail Kachman (The Convert), Costume Designer Meghan E. Healey, Lighting Designer John Hoey (Cloud 9; A Number; My Children, My Africa; Danceboom), Sound Designer Rob Kaplowitz (Body Awareness).



Under our new Wilma WynTix initiative all tickets for all days and times throughout the full four-week mainstage run will be enjoyed by the general public at the subsidized rate of $25, or $10 for students and theater artists. Tickets are available at the Wilma’s Box Office by calling 215.546.7824, visiting, or coming to the theater, located at 265 South Broad Street in Philadelphia. 

The Doubletree Hotel and The Sporting Club at The Bellevue are the Season Sponsors for The Wilma Theater’s 2014/15 Season.

The Wilma Theater creates living, adventurous art. We engage artists and audiences in imaginative reflection on the complexities of contemporary life. We present bold, original, well-crafted productions that represent a range of voices, viewpoints, and styles.