War. What is it good for? The answer to Edwin Starr’s famous question is Absolutely Nothing! Three significant plays about the cost of war have opened this March and each is a must see.
Diane Paulus’ brilliantly conceived (Tony winning) revival of HAIR is raising the roof at the Colonial (through April 10th), resonating all the way to the Middle East with its anti-war heart and all the way to Japan with its prophetic references to radiation. This is not your grandfather’s HAIR. Time has given the musical gravitas and Paulus has given it new, electrifying Life. The fresh-faced, cheeky cast (chiefly Steel Burkhardt, Paris Remillard and a wailing guitar section) lead this juggernaut to its breathtaking last, symbolic image.
Never mind the financial cost of waging three wars (I stand corrected: two wars and one “military action”) at the same time, it’s the human cost that matters. Bill Cain’s 9 CIRCLES (at the BCA through April 9th) meanders through Dante’s Inferno as a young soldier (Jimi Stanton) awaits trial for the atrocities he committed in Iraq as part of “shock and awe.” The army that placed the gun in his hand and civilians in his sights, wants nothing to do with him now. Cain niftily substitutes part for the whole in his wrenching allegory about guilt and responsibility.
The first ring of Hell offers an attorney who wants to put the military on trial. Subsequent levels offer authority figures with varying agendas… which may or may not aide the accused. Cain draws on an actual incident for his tragedy of errors (from the recruiters who sign up troubled teens to the shrinks who send them back into battle with PTSD), so 9 CIRCLES can work as realistic drama as well as parable.
Eric Engel’s shocking production for the Publick Theatre allows us to see Stanton’s Private Reeves as victim (the poster child for what’s wrong with the military) as well as the perpetrator of evil. Will McGarrahan delivers a tour de force as all the lawyers and one outrageous pastor (sending chills up and down the spine). Amanda Collins plays all her roles with compassion, including the overwhelmed psychiatrist. The stunning Publick production is plenty rattling even before John Malinowski turns those judgmental lights on us.
BENT (at Hovey Players through this weekend only) transports us to WWII where two inmates at Dachau struggle to maintain their humanity in spite of their inhumane treatment at the hands of the Nazis. The two are homosexual, making them more repugnant “than Jews” in the eyes of their tormentors, says one of the two to the other. Act I sets up the circumstances for their capture but Act II is what lifts Martin Sherman’s play to the extraordinary. He gives testament to the power of words. Evan Bernstein and Ian Schleifer bring pathos and dignity to their remarkable relationship, demonstrating the healing power of love.