Friday, October 25, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey SOLDIERS ON STAGE, FRONT AND CENTER Two Pulitzer Prize winning plays opened this past week—and both have soldiers at their core.

 WATER BY THE SPOONFUL, the second play in a trilogy, (@ Lyric Stage through Nov. 16th) tells the story of a wounded war vet, his mother and the people they reach out to (and shut out) while they all struggle with addiction and recovery. Lyric is also presenting a reading of ELLIOT, A SOLDIER’S FUGUE (the first play in the trilogy) on Nov. 12th and it’s free!

A SOLDIER’S PLAY (@ Roxbury Repertory Theater through Nov. 2nd) is an eloquent whodunit of the first order which takes place in a segregated army unit in the South during WWII. A sergeant has been shot and lynched and there’s talk about involvement of the KKK.

Charles Fuller’s A SOLDIER’S PLAY, although it was written some 30 years ago, seems just as relevant today for its themes of discrimination and corruption in the military. Fuller sets the play before true integration in the armed services so you have African-American troops under white leadership when the story begins. As we know, racism is still pervasive today …and now you can add sexism to the –isms which haunt the military. What makes Fuller’s play unique is how racism is turned inward to feed on the soul.

Director Marshall Hughes gets rewarding resonance from casting a female in one of the soldier’s roles. She plays it as written (after all, women in the army today are just “soldiers”) and you immediately go along, the ensemble is so strong and the story so compelling. Television and stage veteran Daver Morrison leads the cast as the army lawyer assigned to investigate the murder. Morrison gives a powerful performance as the cool captain who never loses his head, even when white superior officers try to have him dismissed from the case for being Black.

If you’ve seen the play before, you haven’t seen it like this. Hughes employs ingenious shadow play (on stage and on the side walls of the theater) to ratchet up the suspense and amplify the brutality in the piece, making it much more visceral.

See it for a fresh look at an important play and see it for the crackerjack performances: From Damon Singletary’s hateful, yet pitiful sergeant to David J. Curtis’ gentle, tragic blues strummer. From Geraldo Portillo’s seething dissenter to Bruce Drexel Smith’s toadying right hand man. From Ezra Stevens’ defensive corporal to Emerald Johnson’s earnest private. Everyone in the company contributes to this remarkable production.

Quiara Alegria Hudes’ WATER BY THE SPOONFUL has no plot to speak of, just a theme running through the juxtaposed snatches of story, where everyone who desperately needs something (although they might not know what it is) gets it. Hudes sees the details of life and death from a different, often amusing angle: Like the practice of smothering a funeral in flowers which will only die. “Death with your death,” a character muses…or her description of rock bottom as a “ rental Ford.”

The constantly interweaving action, and the fact that a good number of the scenes take place on an internet chat site (with stationary actors), make for rough going, despite the talented actors in director’s Scott Edmiston’s thoughtful production. Computer screens, as a rule, detract from the momentum of a play, although SOME MEN (at SpeakEasy a few years back) managed to make them hilarious. Act II moves much more smoothly because Hudes ditches the device for the most part and lets the characters connect.

Gabriel Rodriguez as the vet tormented by physical and emotional pain, excels in a touching, chilling speech in which he explains the title of the play. Sasha Castroverde as his cousin, provides the family glue, since the vet is estranged from his birth mother, an addict who now counsels other crack addicts on line. Mariela Lopez-Ponce as mother has a beautiful, frightening scene, reliving the family horror.

Johnny Lee Davenport even makes an IRS agent with no outside life charming. Theresa Nguyen as the addict who wants to find her roots has a lovely, redemptive relationship with Davenport and Gabriel Kuttner adds humor as the crack addict who won’t admit the scope of his dependency. He, too, will find a way out. Zaven Ovian as several characters provides the ghostly nightmare locked in the soldier’s conscience.