In the past, we looked to war correspondents like George Orwell, Ernie Pyle, and Stephen Crane to make sense of our wars, and they did so with a commitment to literary quality and dramatic detail. The financial pressures on today's media and an adherence to the myth of objectivity don't always allow for this kind of clarity in journalism, but luckily we can still find it in the theater. Rafael Lima's El Salvador, based on his experiences as a war reporter in El Salvador in the early 1980's, effectively chronicles the struggle of six war correspondents over the course of one day in a hotel outside the village of El Paraiso (the Paradise). During the Salvadorian Army's reclamation of the village, which one correspondent calls an ongoing game of musical-chair occupations, a 10-year-old boy is shot and killed, possibly with an American-funded weapon. The reporters, faced with decisions about what footage to use, and where to find similarly compelling images of death, begin asking familiar questions about the value and integrity of their jobs.
Historically accurate but not tied to the facts, the play succeeds in making the sometimes difficult transition from history to drama. In between the social context and the critique of the media, Lima provides an essential human quality through his all-too-human characters. As the journalists' insecurities unravel and fill the hot, claustrophobic hotel room with tension, it becomes clear that the play is primarily driven by their conflicting world views. All antiheroes, the four men assuage their emptiness with detachment, addictions, and occasionally some refreshing verbal assaults.
Shane Covey's unsympathetic photographer, Pinder, is seemingly the play's backbone