Monologues, like portrait painting, can fulfil various functions. Often the subtle shades of character come out most clearly from the sitter. The Palace of the End, however, gives us three separate portraits, all dealing with the larger issues which surround them. This is at the expense of realism in the character depictions
The three monologues can only partially succeed in engaging the audience as a result. This is not the fault of the actors, however, but rather the dialogue. Lynndie England, who took part in the abuse at Abu Ghraib, is the first appearance. A more subtle piece would have been able to wrap England’s warped logic around the audience, luring us into seeing sense in her arguments. Instead, England shows cracks of self-loathing and remorse, and thus ends up pleading and pathetic. The viewer remains detached from this site of casual homophobia and increasing desperation. England thus remains as distant as ever. Convincing – rather than informing - us of England’s motives would have been a more interesting route to follow.
The second monologue sees a bearded man sprawled against a log, and nestled among the sweet smells and lilting sounds of nature. This is Dr David Kelly, shortly before suicide. The interpretation of Kelly’s death, while laudably acted, is often verging on the hysterical. Kelly whimpers that he longs to ‘Come back as a great spotted wood pecker’ and needs to sing the song ‘which I used to sing with my daughter in search for butter cups’ before he dies. Predictably the United States comes off badly from this. Kelly tells tales about the ‘ravenous eyes’ of the American troops, who eye up Iraqi women before raping them, and dispatching them with bayonets.
There is a slightly warped sense of morality here, especially from the final character Nehrjas, who despite being tortured for violating laws against freedom of speech, also sees little difference between Saddam Hussein and George Bush. It’s all slightly black and white, not to mention preachy.
As a work of art, it is helpful to imagine the Palace of the End as a set of three portraits. Rather than these having the subtle characterisation or flesh and blood realism of a Rembrandt, they instead resemble the wooden icons of a medieval church. Their aim is to preach a specific point to an audience, a point which only very loosely ties the images together. This is often at the expense of artistic realism and makes the separate monologues feel more like issues, and less like flesh and blood characters.