Monday, March 09, 2009

Militant Language

‘MILITANT LANGUAGE’—a script which asks more questions than it answers

‘MILITANT LANGUAGE: A PLAY IN THE SAND,’ is in a unique production cycle. The script is simultaneously being world premiered at Cleveland’s Bang and Clatter, Theatre of Cincinnati, Available Light [Theatre] of Columbus, Halcyon Theatre in Chicago and Next Stage in Seattle.

Set in modern day Iraq, the story unfolds from an opening scene in which a pair of American soldiers return from a routine surveillance detail filled with angst. What happened? As that unanswered question becomes an underlying issue, a Captain fights to control his troops as they find themselves involved in a secret homosexual affair, the sexual abuse of a female soldier, a search for a missing Iraqi boy, and a baby found in the desert, ala Moses.

The script is filled with visions and illusions of violence begetting violence, lies resulting in more lies, and questions of whether truth can be born from honesty. It wraps up with the question, “Does war make no more sense than sand raining from the heavens?”

The setting is an unspecified building site. What’s going on? What’s really going on? A question that the script doesn’t really answer. Sean Christopher Lewis, the play’s author says that ‘MILITANT LANGUAGE’ is "a play about responsibility in a world that doesn't make sense anymore." And, one can only wonder if the unidentified site is a metaphor for the damage of war, when things aren’t built but rather are destroyed. And, whether the U.S. foray into Iraq was a flight of Bush ego, which has resulted in the destruction of not only that country but the economy and self-pride of the US.

We see Pfc. Marcus Goop conflicted about a violent act in which he was a participant. Pfc. Emma Beed is placed in degrading female roles, including being raped. Sensitive and gay Pfc. Andrew Wallace mostly wants to sing Country songs, but he soon gets swept up in the turbulence. Pfc. Damian Jacks is obsessed with being a macho man-boy soldier. And Capt. Davis Crain is faced with spinning chaos seemingly beyond his control.

Sounds like an interesting concept and set of characters. If the play was more focused on a clarity of purpose, and the characters fully fleshed out, it would have been a better evening of theatre. But, even with the script’s weaknesses, director Daniel Taylor should have been able to mold the production into a more cohesive unit. The combination of some misguided directing, including slow pacing, awkward blocking and unfocused characterizaions, made the 90-minutes seem like twice that long. Taylor needed to help some of his actors develop clear personas by working with them to understand each individual as a real person.

Michael May is excellent as Marcus Goop. He is consistent in his textured performance. Scott Thomas is properly tender and naïve as Wallace.

Raina Semivan (Beed) has some good moments and Jocelyn Roueiheb is acceptable, as Huda, an Iraqi in search of the lost boy. However, both were on the surface and could have developed deeper characterizations.

Rick Bowling yells his lines, many of which lacked idea clarity due to his shouting words rather than stressing the meanings of his words. And Joshua Davis seems to have no clue of the underpinnings of the role of Damian. He’s like a verbal Ken doll, dressed in red, white and blue boxers, which are definitely not Army issue.

Capsule judgment: Bang and Clatter’s MILITANT LANGUAGE misses the mark on two counts…the script is of questionable construction and the production qualities are often weak. It’s going to be interesting to read the reviews of other productions to see what, if anything, B&G audiences may have missed out on.