Vignettes for the Apocalypse
nytheatre.com review by Anthony C.E. Nelson
February 10, 2007
Endtimes Productions' one-act festival is called Vignettes for the Apocalypse, which seems like an excellent theme to build a festival around. Indeed, the darkly amusing curtain announcement (which sounds rather like the spoken word intro to a heavy metal album) seems to bear this out, but unfortunately of the three plays I saw in Group 1, only one, Plays for the Sunni Triangle, seemed to have a strong relationship to the theme.
The first piece, Joe Lauinger's Woo at the Zoo, is the comedic tale of a pair of strangers, a "professional anglophile" ( Jennifer Terpak), and a slacker (Collin Mackenzie Smith), who experience a whirlwind, up-and-down courtship in front of the monkey cage at the zoo. Lauinger's writing has some potential, but unfortunately the actors, although charming, don't display much comedic timing, and director Matthew Kreiner's flat, static staging fails to take advantage of the script's wackiness.
The second piece, Ed Friedman's melodrama Let No Man Tear Asunder, tells the story of a marriage in trouble in Ecuador. As Barbara Warner's (Lori Feiler) marriage to her missionary husband Tom (Byron Beane) turns cruel, she looks for help from an older priest, Father Hart (Jay S. Brisk). His advice to her to simply be patient and wait it out doesn't seem particularly helpful, but Lori is surprised and pleased when Tom returns to his old self. This ends quickly with the discovery of a mysterious note from a suitor to her husband, and Lori turns for help to a priest closer to her age, Luis Aguilar (Alessandro Colla). The twists and turns of this soap-operaesque plot are pretty obvious, but Colla delivers an excellent performance, switching from gentle to menacing in the blink of an eye.
The final piece, Plays For the Sunni Triangle by Jerrod Bogard, is a set of three bold and interesting responses to the Iraq war. Its pretty rare to see a political piece that responds to events in wholly original ways, and audiences are as likely to be offended as moved by Bogard's work. The first section follows, in verse, the journey of a child from playing with his toys directly into the military. The piece is an interesting commentary on the way we allow our children to play with military toys and images, then send some of them into the army at age 18 with little help transitioning into civilian life. Some of the lines are starkly quotable:
The skill to kill
we loan you
we used to let you keep it
but that didn't work out so well.
The soldiers are led by a recruiter (Justin Ness) who shepherds them into war still carrying their super-soakers and nerf guns; he's a cross between a helpful parent and a standard movie drill sergeant. They are promised "40,000 dollars, good for school. And a mule."
In the second piece, the one which produced the most angry muttering from the audience, a single Marine (the excellent Scott Voloshin) gives a monologue about his experiences in the military, home and abroad. The Marine decries the silliness of yellow ribbons, saying, "I don't need you to be grateful. We get paid." And then, "You shouldn't believe everything they tell you about over there. It's not like they paint it out to be. It's a job. Lotta jobs carry risk." The monologue is more effective when it moves away from this type of criticism towards discussing how the Marine's risk-carrying job is actually carried out: Marines don't attack hospitals or enemy positions or anything else; they attack targets. If you want to blame someone for collateral damage, the Marine says, blame the intelligence and the decision makers, not the professionals who do their job by blowing up whatever building they were told to.
The third section is less interesting, depicting a group of terrorists who intend to behead a man on camera, but botch it through Three Stooges-like antics.
Jerrod Bogard's three plays, artfully directed by Kristin Skye Hoffman, have a number of interesting points to make. Bogard is certainly not afraid to court controversy; he includes in the press packet a copy of an email from his brother telling him his play "disrespects our fighting men and women in the field" and ends by asking him, "are you brainwashed?"
The three plays offer a strong point of view, but would be stronger dramatically by allowing the soldiers a little more ambiguity in their positions. There may be many soldiers who would say things like, "nobody lied to me—I'm getting everything I signed up for," but as we have seen in the wake of things like the stop-loss scandal, there are many more who would not.