Los Angeles Theater Preview: THE SOURCE (LA Opera and Beth Morrison Projects at REDCAT)

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by Tony Frankel on October 15, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


There’s so much buzz about The Source, which opens at REDCAT next week, that an extra performance has been added (the show runs Oct.19-23, 2016). The most fascinating aspect of its popularity is that people I know who are attending are curious about something: What is this show really about?


The Source, which premiered in 2014 at BAM in NYC, is based on a true story: In 2009, Bradley Edward Manning was a US Army intelligence analyst stationed in Iraq. In January 2010, Manning sent hundreds of thousands of documents to Wikileaks about the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, revealing a dramatically higher number of civilian casualties than the Pentagon publicly acknowledged. The documents also included a video of Apache attack helicopters gunning down two journalists in Baghdad.

Manning later attacked a commanding officer, and was demoted and told there would be a discharge. The Private subsequently reached out to a stranger online, hacker Adrian Lamo. Using the screen name “bradass87,” Manning confided in Lamo about the leaks. Lamo contacted the Defense Department about what he had learned, which led to the arrest and eventual conviction in 2013 of Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

the-source-moca-photo-by-noah-stern-weber-5On the day after the sentencing, Manning announced via a statement on the morning talk show Today that she is transgender: “I want everyone to know the real me. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.” In April 2014, the transgender Manning was granted the right to be legally recognized as Chelsea Elizabeth Manning. Her sentence is being served at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Private Manning’s conviction and sentence provoked a maelstrom of media coverage, ranging from portraits of Manning’s personal life to new dialogues about military abuses. But The Source–created by Brooklyn-based composer Ted Hearne and director Daniel Fish–is neither a linear depiction of the events leading to Manning’s eventual arrest nor a retreading of the media hysteria surrounding her story. The Source approaches Manning’s identity by engaging with the content of the leaks themselves: that is, the day-to-day accounts of the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The Source is a music-theater work, a modern-day multimedia oratorio. The libretto, culled and arranged by librettist Mark Doten, is a collage made from a patchwork of primary-source documents, including Manning’s words (such as internet chats with Lamo) and sections of the classified material known as the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War. The music, like the text, draws from diverse sources, becoming a fever-dream assemblage of auto-tuned recitatives, neo soul ballads, icy string trios and moments of cracked-out musical theater peppered with (and sometimes structured around) samples that bridge sonic worlds.


As an ever-shifting chorus of silent witnesses looms (the video, which contains extremely violent images of actual combat, is designed by Fish and Jim Findlay), four singers are housed with the audience in a visceral installation of sight and sound. As they sing with (at times) electronically-processed voices, accompanied by a live ensemble of seven instrumentalists, you will enter the digital mire, a fever-dream assemblage of Twitter feeds, cable news reports, chat transcripts, court testimony, and declassified military video. All of this shines a light on the massive information machine in which Manning, and our nation, has become ensnared. This is how Hearne and Fish submit us to the hysteric media machine that continues to take sides over Chelsea’s many identities: adrift adolescent, emboldened whistleblower, traitor to her country.


You can listen to four audio samples of the presentation here. Click here to watch a 15-minute excerpt from the 2014 production of The Source at BAM Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn.

photos by James Matthew Daniel and Noah Stern Weber
album art by Seth Gadsden

The Source
presented by LA Opera and Beth Morrison Projects
REDCAT, 631 West 2nd St (under Disney Hall)
plays October 19-23, 2016
for tickets, call 213-972-8001 or visit LA Opera

then plays San Francisco
Taube Atrium Theater
Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness
February 24-March 3, 2017
for tickets, visit SF Opera

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