A devastating play, very powerful, and the acting is superb,” said—no, not Liz Smith, but Archbishop Desmond Tutu, after his own cameo last week in Guantánamo: “Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.”
Wearing a weighty silver cross over a shirt in two-toned pink, the 73-year-old anti-apartheid icon delivered remarks culled from a British lord’s speech. “Trials of the type contemplated by the United States government would be a stain on United States justice,” Tutu read onstage. “The only thing that could be worse is simply to leave the prisoners in their black hole indefinitely.”
Tutu was the first in a long line of celebrity dignitaries who, if all goes as planned, will take to the stage, Vagina Monologues–style, and lend a little glamour to tales based on testimony from Guantánamo detainees. “It’s an historic moment in theater,” producer Allan Buchman exclaims with a pride both political and financial. The Kerry-endorsing 9/11 widows will appear, as will genocide expert Samantha Power. Buchman also plans to court Jimmy Carter, Al Sharpton, and John McCain (perhaps best approached after the election).
“We’re going for a humanitarian approach as opposed to a celebrity approach,” he says. “Look, if Richard Gere wants to do it, of course we’d love to have him. But we don’t want it to become a rotating carousel. People tend to cast a downward glance at celebrities with political opinions.”
No one would begrudge the archbishop his political opinions. Visibly weary before the performance—it’s a long flight from Cape Town—Tutu hadn’t yet read the script (“I want to be shocked fresh”), but confessed to a touch of déjà vu. “People used to be contained without trials during the apartheid years, and when you asked why, the standard reply was ‘the security of the state.’ ” Still, he insists, “I’m not anti-Bush, I’m anti many of the policies.” Tutu also counseled compassion in a speech after the play. “We should be careful who we condemn. Saddam Hussein is God’s child—as Bush is God’s child.”
And how did Tutu rate himself as an actor? “Of all God’s creatures, men are the most insecure,” he added. “Maybe crazy people think they want to give me a standing ovation, but until my wife says to me, ‘Eh, that’s not too bad,’ I’m feeling quite miserable.”