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Body of an American, The - Full Length Play, Drama

Body of an American, The

Dan O'Brien

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Full Length Play, Drama


ISBN: 9780573703164

The Body of an American speaks to a moment in recent history when a single, stark photograph - of the body of an American dragged from the wreck of a Blackhawk through the streets of Mogadishu - reshaped the course of global events.

More Information Below:

Description | Characters | Rental Materials | Media | Author | Reviews
: Acting Edition
: Large Print
: Stage Manager

Minimum Fee: $75 per performance


Full Length Play



90 minutes

Settings Of Play - Various times and locations, then the Arctic in the present.



Unit Set/Multiple Settings, Bare Stage/Simple Set

Contemporary Costumes / Street Clothes


Adult, Senior


College Theatre / Student, Community Theatre, Professional Theatre, Blackbox / Second Stage /Fringe Groups


L. Arnold Weisssberger Award for Playwriting

FINALIST - 2015 Horton Foote Award, Best American Play
NOMINEE - 2015 Evening Standard's Charles Wintour Award, Most Promising Playwright
WINNER - 2014 Horton Foote Prize for Outstanding New American Play
WINNER - 2013 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama
WINNER - 2013 PEN Center USA Award for Drama
WINNER - 2011 L. Arnold Weissberger Award
NOMINEE - 2014 Evening Standard Award - Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright

Dan O'Brien's gripping and provocative play, The Body of an American speaks to a moment in recent history when a single, stark photograph - of the body of an American dragged from the wreck of a Blackhawk through the streets of Mogadishu - reshaped the course of global events. In a story ranging far in time and place, from Rwanda to Afghanistan to the Canadian Arctic, and in powerful, theatrical language, Dan O’Brien explores the ethical and personal consequences of Paul Watson’s photograph, as well as the interplay between political upheaval and the experience of trauma in an age saturated by images and information.

In his multi-award-winning play, Dan O'Brien pinpoints a globally historic moment, and with it, shines a light on deeply personal issues relevant to our time and culture. 


"You have to admire the pressurized shape that the writer has found for his story...You feel for these men--and you also get a sobering reflection of the effect that the Mogadishu photo had on world events over the years." - The Washington Post, Read More

"Hauntings, on a personal and national scale, guilt, obsession and depression form the subject of this dense, knotty play... a play that tightens its grip as it probes where war lives, and discovers we each carry it inside ourselves." - The Guardian

"An engrossingly subjective docu-drama which feels psychologically acute and politically important...a really superb piece of theatre." - The Stage

"The Body of an American is a play about writing a play but it’s also an intricate meditation on the nature of memory and guilt." - Evening Standard

"Provides ample food for thought… Moment by moment the livewire, oddly introspective theatrical experience keeps us on our toes, and accumulatively it presents us with a debate about where we should draw the line between observation and involvement, what’s good about curiosity and what’s bad." - Telegraph

"This play is an extraordinary exploration of mental health, war and friendship. Unrelentingly gripping, The Body of an American will lodge itself in the mind and there it will remain, hopefully and deservedly, for a long time." - The Upcoming

"The Body of an American is as richly poetic as it is pixel sharp. It’s the document of a relationship that began as art and became something like therapy, it’s a play about violence and the power of the image, and of facing the difficult truths about your privileged place in the world. The Body of an American is a stunning, complex piece of theatre that refuses to be tamed or drawn into conclusions. There is no moralising or sanding down of rough or difficult edges…It’s the story of two lives flicking through one another for answers, a record of vital but insoluble moral questioning." - Exeunt

"One of the most exciting and original new plays that you’re ever likely to see. I’m still reeling from the experience. Fascinating and immensely powerful.” - WOW 24/7

The Body of An American was first presented by Portland Center Stage in Portland, Oregon, on October 9, 2012. It was directed by Bill Rauch. The play was commissioned and developed with support from The Playwrights’ Center’s 2009-2010 McKnight Commission and Residency Program, Minneapolis, MN. 





All Male


Two actors play all the roles here—ideally one actor in his 30s, who plays Dan most of the time, and an actor in his 50s to mostly play Paul. The older of these two actors has the first line of the play, and with each new character-heading the actors alternate.


N/A (Not a musical)

MAN 1 - Dan O'Brien and others, 30s
MAN 2 - Paul Watson and others, 50s
Rental Materials


N/A (Not a musical)


N/A (Not a musical)


  • Dan O'Brien on origin of The Body of an American

  • Dan O'Brien on relationship with Paul Watson

  • Dan O'Brien on historical material of The Body of an American

  • Dan O'Brien on the impact of The Body of an American

  • Dan O'Brien on the catharsis of The Body of an American

Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

Dan O’Brien is a playwright, poet, and librettist. His play The Body of an American received the inaugural Edward M. Kennedy Prize, the Horton Foote Prize for Outstanding New American Play, the PEN Center USA Award for Drama, the L. Arnold Weissberger Award, and was shortlisted for an Evening Standard Drama Award in the UK. The Body of an American premiered at Portland Center Stage, directed by ... view full profile

Now Playing
Virginia Reed 11/6/2013 2:23 PM
Dan O'Brien's script is brilliantly crafted, blisteringly honest, moving and breathtaking, challenging both actors and audience in all the best ways.

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