Beware of spies bringing ‘Blood and Gifts’ at La Jolla Playhouse


By Katherine Poythress

Billed as “part spy thriller, part black comedy,” “Blood and Gifts” by American playwright J.T. Rogers will make its West Coast premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse, June 12-July 8.

Directed by Lucie Tiberghien, the play takes audiences on a journey beyond the political headlines of the official Soviet-Afghan war that lasted from 1981 to 1991, and into the secret spy war behind it.

At its heart, the play is also about the political seeds that were sown for the infamous Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on American soil, said Playhouse Resident Dramaturg Shirley Fishman.

Both political and personal, the theatrical historic fiction follows CIA operative James Warnock (played by Kelly AuCoin) as he deals with his British and Russian counterparts while trying to shut down Soviet control of Afghanistan. In the process, it reveals the sacrifices made by spies like him to protect American interests in the war.

“It tells the toll that these kind of covert actions take on relationships and the people making them, and it’s all played out against the backdrop of this very heated, political war that’s going on in a foreign country,” Fishman explained.

The story takes place in a variety of cultural settings — from Afghanistan and Soviet Russia to 1980s-era Washington, D.C. — providing the creative team with plenty of opportunities to delight audiences with culturally and historically accurate costumes and sounds.

Fishman said her favorite part about “Blood and Gifts” is that it operates on so many different levels. The script is gripping, with a balance of sharp humor and crisp dialogue. That, mixed with metaphors of gifts and games, provides for a thought-provoking story.

“Although it’s a political flashpoint over the course of 10 years, it’s also very entertaining,” she said.

Rogers is one of the few American playwrights still writing about politics, and “Blood and Gifts” is his first work to debut at the La Jolla Playhouse, Fishman said, but it continues the Playhouse’s long history of dealing with politics through plays.