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The Body of an American

From 16 critic and 69 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Relevant

About the show

Primary Stages and Rhoda R. Herrick present the New York premiere of an award-winning play, exploring the ethical and personal consequences of Paul Watson’s famous photograph. More…

Dan O'Brien tells the true story of an extraordinary friendship as two men, a war photojournalist and playwright, journey from some of the most dangerous places on earth to the depths of the human soul. It is an award-winning glimpse at a moment in recent history when a single, stark photograph - of the body of an American dragged from the wreck of a Blackhawk through the streets of Mogadishu - reshaped the course of global events.

Broadway Blog

"This is a two-man, with the ambience of a docudrama, although what’s documented is not so much Watson’s the relationship between the two men and the sharing of their respective psychological anxieties...‘The Body of an American’ is as much a triumph of theatrical skill as it is of fine acting and creative dramaturgy. That it also questions the instincts that lead to war makes it even more important that the play be seen." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Under Bonney’s careful direction, the actors deliver authentic and honest performances that engage the audience and connect with the audience on deep levels raising rich questions about 'where war lives.'... 'The Body of an American' asks that profound question of each and every audience member...The set design, lighting design, and projection design all draw the viewer into the matrix of cerebral and psychological constructs that make 'The Body of an American' a play worth seeing. " Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Michael Cumpsty as Paul and Michael Crane as Dan are both impressive—and versatile, moving easily into the ancillary characters they are portraying while completely in tune with each other. They have created Paul and Dan with great heart and honesty, and both bring rich life and humor to an incredibly dense play. It was a joy to be there with them." Full Review

New York Theatre Guide

"Watching two excellent actors take on the rolls of several people in a story AND switch playing the two main characters can take it out of a gal. Which is not to say 'The Body of an American' is not worth the trip. It most certainly is...Michael Crane and Michael Cumpsty are in excellent form...This sharing of the two main roles is a contrivance that took a long time getting used to, time I would rather have spent in the story than on the logistics of the staging." Full Review

As Her World Turns

"An interesting two-hander that explores the relationship between playwright/poet Dan O’Brien and war photographer Paul Watson…As someone who takes photos abroad, I found it fascinating to hear about what Paul Watson has witnessed first-hand. His real-life photos are projected onto the set at various points, illustrating his accounts perfectly. Glad to have caught this one." Full Review

The New York Times

"A lyrical, untidy and ultimately poignant work of theater…At times the play can seem glum, solipsistic and self-serious, but what invigorates it — beyond the energy and precision of the performances — is the sense of both men struggling, and often failing, to understand what draws them to each other or why they continue their conversation…This ambiguity can be frustrating, but it also feels truthful." Full Review


"I found the structure more intriguing than off-putting, though along about the mid-point the interchanges and monologue-like dialogue felt drawn out and excessively wordy…Though some of this does tend to feel like a travelogue and the trajectory of the relationship like a wannabe buddy story, it is offset by the vibrancy of the vignettes…Seeing these two actors on stage throughout the pacey 90-minutes is worth a trip to the West Village for anyone who values good acting." Full Review

Time Out New York

"A curious, not always successful, but consistently intriguing character study...Director Jo Bonney keeps the pace brisk, the trajectory clear...For O’Brien to draw parallels between Watson’s heroics and his own cushy life as an academically connected playwright comes across as not only presumptuous but parasitical...And yet there’s a decided payoff when O’Brien finally works his way toward a personal epiphany which mirrors in some small measure Watson’s own painful, expiatory journey." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"The play is anything but a conventional biography; instead, it's an account of O'Brien's ultimately unsuccessful struggle to figure out what makes Watson tick...Despite these gripping revelations, the rest of 'The Body of an American' disappoints...'The Body of an American' is yet another new play that might arguably work better in prose form, which would allow for a fuller exploration of both men without trying to force some kind of dramatic confrontation between them." Full Review


"The production is curiously remote and uninvolving...Their meeting provides little catharsis for either man–or the audience...Although Crane looks remarkably like the author, his character remains curiously flat...Cumpsty’s Paul is a more fully developed and as a result he gives the better performance...There is definitely a fascinating story in the friendship between Dan O’Brien and Paul Watson but 'The Body of an American' in this production does not seem to have located it yet." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"The biggest issue is that Paul and his story are undersized…Paul's recollections, tinted and tainted by distance and his own mental state, appear faint and distant, not immediate; you don't experience his heartbreak the way he did, and O'Brien does not otherwise draw it out of him. As a result, an inception point that's supposed to be titanic is microscopic, leaving the rest of the play to feel like a severe case of much ado about nothing." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"The 90-minute two-hander devotes so much of its energy to showy techniques like jumping back and forth in time and having both actors play other characters and sometimes exchange their main roles as well, that, despite director Jo Bonney's best efforts, the show ultimately failed to make me care about the connection between the men." Full Review


"The play takes on the frustrating undertones of a therapy session. On top of this, O'Brien's text often veers into theatrical cliché…The actors furiously circle, cross, and shift character in Jo Bonney's deceptively lackadaisical staging…A few false epiphanies wrapped in self-pity and uninspired stagecraft, 'The Body of an American' looks and feels a lot like a one-man show in a fringe festival (but with two men)…It's hard to walk away not wishing for our 90 minutes back." Full Review

The Westfield News

for a previous production "A powerhouse of a drama…The two actors work and move together as intricately as two dancers in a pas de deux…Individually, they give well-rendered performances; together, they’re a tour-de-force…A bold play by an accomplished playwright, that asks difficult questions about the impacts experienced by serious journalists...'The Body of an American' will challenge audiences, and hopefully, like me, will leave the theatre with some fresh perspectives." Full Review


for a previous production "The performances are virtuosic...The actors seem driven by unflinching commitment to telling this story with as much clarity and complexity as they can. Jo Bonney seems just the right person to establish a brisk pace and style that keeps this brainy, text-heavy script urgent and alive...Achingly current, this piece works best for an audience that is hooked on news and world affairs." Full Review


for a previous production "O’Brien does possess great instincts as a playwright which assure that the evening never becomes static...The play bounces around in time and location, but is always easy to follow… Director Jo Bonney and her two accomplished actors, Michael Cumpsty as Watson and Michael Crane as O’Brien manage to draw the audience in and sustain our interest…They each handle each impersonations with crafty aplomb." Full Review

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Intelligent, Profound

See it if You care about current events

Don't see it if You don't care for realism

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great acting, Moving, Compelling

See it if You like drama and current events.

Don't see it if Just see it.

Absorbing, Great writing, Intense, Resonant, Original

See it if a ruminative, clever, theatrical, beautifully-woven story of cruelty and art, with a warm human center and elegant architecture

Don't see it if you're looking for a more conventional drama or something lighter (though it doesn't lack for humor and the occasional breeze)

Absorbing, Edgy, Clever, Great acting, Must see

See it if Intelligent, heartfelt, intense, well directed and well acted

Don't see it if Only like silly things

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Great writing, Riveting

See it if You want to watch two amazing actors in a new and thought provoking story. Kudos to the playwright and the entire production team.

Don't see it if You expect to sit back and watch mindless entertainment.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Intelligent, Original

See it if Strong acting in minimal setting with powerful staging

Don't see it if You don't like minimal setting with expert staging.

Clever, Original, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Intensely powerful

See it if you appreciate the plight of war photographers and agony that comes with revealing ugly truths, like smart plays which force you to think.

Don't see it if you want to just be entertained, don't appreciate good acting and powerful theatre; if ethics and consequences are not important to you.

Absorbing, Indulgent, Thought-provoking, Original, Disturbing

See it if you are a news junkie, curious about the Somalian war, like plays about writers and friendship, like seeing actors play multiple parts

Don't see it if war talk disturbs you, you expect a more action packed play, lack patience with people seeking to discover themselves

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if You like to be challenged and think about relevant issues regarding the press and its impact

Don't see it if You see shows just to be entertained.

Absorbing, Confusing, Great acting, Intelligent, Intense

See it if Good character work by the actors. A fascinating story about a topic I haven't seen covered before.

Don't see it if It's a little confusing at times, as the actors switch roles back and forth. A lot of stream of consciousness. Hard to take at times.

Absorbing, Thought-provoking

See it if politics and policies in the Middle East confound & frighten you, this is why

Don't see it if you cannot stomach violence and don't follow the news from the Middle East

Confusing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Ambitious

See it if you like to keep thinking what it is all about. i think i got it!

Don't see it if if you just want to be entertained.

Confusing, Insipid, Thought-provoking

See it if You enjoy a play about the importance of the actions we take and the career paths that lead us those actions.

Don't see it if You don't like unconventionally produced theatre with a a sense of detachment of the characters one another and the material almost.

Ambitious, Slow, Confusing, Disappointing, Epic

See it if You like to see 2 people shows.

Don't see it if You don't like topic of journalism.

Ambitious, Original, Thought-provoking, Confusing, Relevant

See it if you are fascinated by war correspondents and how they re-assimilate. The content is ambitious, relevant, and powerful.

Don't see it if you want a comprehensible opening; it's purposely confusing. Being self-reflective (I'm Dan writing a play about Dan) is a cheat. Often slow

Disappointing, Great acting, Indulgent, Quirky, Overrated

See it if you like to see the playwright insert himself into the subject matter and talk about his process.

Don't see it if you like plays that aren't indulgent. Here we get to follow a fellow talking about writing his play. Really?

Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if You are open to various genres of theatre, you are interested in testimony & trauma, or you like to see real stories honored on stage

Don't see it if You expect traditional theatre, plot is prioritized in the programming you are currently seeking, you are seeking high-energy material


See it if you like serious drama

Don't see it if you don't like serious drama


See it if Accomplished actors, superior staging, mesmerizing dialogue.

Don't see it if Fluff.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thoughtful, Topical

See it if you like character studies, good writing, wonderful acting and a thought-provoking insights into a photojournalist's life.

Don't see it if you are easily bored, want "splashy" shows and have a short attention span.

During previews
Intelligent, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Two planks and a passion plus, Great writing

See it if true theatre is important to you

Don't see it if you're interested in fluff

During previews
Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Profound, Thought-provoking

See it if you are hoping for a night of captivating theater; you are interested in stories based on real people

Don't see it if you need songs and dancing in order to be entertained

During previews
Clever, Great acting, Great writing, Absorbing, Original

See it if You like thought-provoking, fascinating and edgy plays. The writing, acting and staging is brilliant.

Don't see it if You are not a fan of serious, gritty plays.

During previews
Absorbing, Great staging, Intelligent, Profound, Relevant

See it if You enjoy a story with a documentary feel and a rather intense emotional experience.

Don't see it if The ideas and images of war or death.

During previews
Absorbing, Delightful, Entertaining, Great acting, Great writing

See it if Great acting

Don't see it if You avoid unplesant situations

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Cast & Creatives (10)