nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
August 17, 2011
This production of Civilian comes from the theatre department at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Kentucky. I’m guessing it is a workshop in progress, perhaps in its early stages. I don’t want to single anyone out or list everyone here. It’s a group endeavor.
The show has minimal lighting, set design and costumes. The writer is also the director and the show has a work-in-progress feel, a truly raw documentary format, a sort of stage "verite."
Here are five powerful and true stories about four men and a woman leaving civilian life, picking up guns and experiencing war, then returning to become civilians again. Not one of them can do this easily. They know too much, they’ve seen too much horror. The stories are rough, gems looking for a good cut and polish and the right settings. The action here is slow, relaxed. There is a professor strolling the stage asking random, seemingly disconnected questions of the five returnees. She jots notes, checks things off. We are told the stories are being gathered for a documentary and the set is a loose classroom arena. Although there are actors, I’m thinking this is their effort to tell the true stories to themselves, to try to get into these real soldiers’ heads.
The actors recount their experiences. They put on uniforms and take them off at the end, but it is all loose impressionism longing for shape, poetry, music, focus and a clear vision. Realism is not an unedited slice of street life at midday—it is focused, shaped and poignant in its expression. Things can be done with great effect here, but have yet to be accomplished.
After the soldiers have told their tales, with a super-realism that requires no refinement and often feels like rambling, they begin to engage with the folks back home. Things immediately get interesting when they clash with the locals, and we start to see the true nature of things—the way you see landscapes in lightning strikes, momentarily distinct and defined. This powerful side of the drama has yet to be fully developed, but judging from the few scenes related here, there is a gold mine waiting.
We need to know how it is for these young people who are trying to fit in as civilians, after what they’ve been through. Some of them are returning without legs or arms, or with permanent debilitating wounds. War is terribly ugly, beyond even the worst blood and gore movies.
I look forward to seeing the progress of this piece. We Americans too easily forget what real sacrifices are made by our soldiers and how difficult it is for them to return to normal life, if they ever can. The true accounts related here are reason enough to see a performance.