I couldn’t be more excited to have J.T. Rogers’ Blood and Gifts on our stage right now to conclude TimeLine Theatre’s 16th season.
The road to bring this dynamic play to TimeLine started more than five years ago—before J.T. had even begun work on the script. Having read his play The Overwhelming, which is about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, TimeLine’s Company Members were blown away by the intelligence, depth and scope of his writing. His is a fresh, dramatic voice that is global in perspective, probing, and clearly fascinated with examining history in a way that provokes thought, emotion and discussion. We felt that we’d found a kindred spirit.
On the night I first met him in 2008, it became abundantly clear that his interests and theater sensibilities were so in sync with TimeLine’s mission that I told him, “even if it takes years, we’d love to find a project to work on with you.”
We’ve been in conversation ever since.
As our mutual admiration for one another’s work continued to grow, J.T. mentioned that he was starting to write a play about the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan during the early 1980s. I said, “As soon as you’ve got a first draft, send it to me!” And he did.
So we’ve had the privilege of watching Blood and Gifts evolve over the last few years, cheering for the play’s deserved acclaim after its premiere at London’s National Theatre as well as its heralded run at New York’s Lincoln Center. And we’ve been grateful that through it all, J.T. kept talking with us about premiering the play in Chicago at TimeLine.
This summer we are proud to see that wish fulfilled.
While epic in scope—spanning 1981 through 1991—and ripe with historical and political context, Blood and Gifts, at its core, is an intensely human play. It zeroes in on the role of the individual—ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances who, decision after decision, shape history.
Even with a cast of 14, the striking thing about this play is how much of it is two-person scenes. It’s two guys in a room talking, contemplating decisions most of us cannot imagine. Navigating barriers of language, culture, history, religion and custom, theirs is a fragile dance of trust earned and trust lost. With the full knowledge that there are no good decisions, these men seek just to make the least bad one, all the while pondering the world they’ll leave for their children.
Under the ever-inspiring leadership of our Associate Artistic Director Nick Bowling and his stellar design team and cast, TimeLine’s production of Blood and Gifts has been crafted for our intimate space to bring you as close to the story as possible, immersing you in the tangled web of covert operations.
When you visit the theater, we invite you to be curious. And to see where that curiosity takes you! Explore your surroundings—perhaps in ways that you might normally feel too timid to try on the set of a play. Open drawers, read files, scour for facts and insight, and bravely enter the clandestine world of this play. The amount of research that J.T. conducted as he wrote this story is staggering, and we’ve tried to share as many resources with you as possible. All so you can dig deeper.
TimeLine’s production of Blood and Gifts owes a special debt to many, but to two men in particular. First to J.T., for sharing so much insight with the cast and production team and for being so enthusiastically involved. And second to Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, for his generosity and for sharing his expertise.
I thank you for continuing to travel with TimeLine to new places, as we explore eras, cultures and parts of the globe that we haven’t before. And I thank J.T. for his belief in our company through the years. We hope that you’ll hear more from him here in the future.
Blood and Gifts gives us much to dissect, discuss and debate, and we are so thrilled to give this play a platform for that conversation in Chicago. Please share your responses to the play and its themes in the comments below.