Back from the Front
nytheatre.com review by Riley MacLeod
August 15, 2004
I have a thing for war plays, at least in part because I have a twin sister in the military who will be bound for Iraq sometime soon. Consequently, when I saw the subtitle “a dark comedy” under the title of Back from the Front, I had a moment of hesitation. But with the Republicans on their way in less than a week, I knew I needed a good laugh. I was ready for anything.
What I received was a thought-provoking, high-energy comedy by Lynn Rosen about a family who discovers that their son, who is believed to be MIA, is returning to their home on Thanksgiving Day. As this quirky and delightful family dismantles all of their coping mechanisms and opens their arms to welcome their Robbie home, Robbie appears in the form of an Asian man who government worker-cum-friend Carlos Sanchez (delightfully and skillfully portrayed by Erin Gann) insists is their son. The new Robbie proves himself by rattling off facts about the Walker family and he is soon accepted, with disastrous consequences to those who doubt that he is who he says.
The cast has excellent chemistry and a vitality that keeps this show rocketing along. Adam Green plays Robbie's brother Lenny with a quirky performance reminiscent of the recent film Napoleon Dynamite. Antionette LaVecchia maintains mother Wendy Walker’s die-hard blind optimism straight through the show, even as the truth violently attempts to shatter her fantasies. David Jenkins is a little bit scary as Hal, the Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder-riddled neighbor who bursts in and out of the scene with metaphors and threats. Director Giovanna Sardelli keeps the ten-person cast together and moving with skillful bouts of physical comedy and excellent use of space and props.
While hilariously taking on war, government, race, and television, this play also raised some deep questions in my mind. At one point “Robbie” wishes he were back at the front, saying “At least I knew who the bad guys were then. At least I think I did.” Who is the real enemy these days? The mother’s life-giving hope ultimately destroys her family when all she wants is to keep it together, to keep up the illusion of safety, belonging and truth. How far will people go to maintain the illusion of safety? How does one create an identity and mesh it into the whole, especially when the whole itself is divided and coming apart? What does it mean to be a family and a nation? Where is the line drawn between the war and the front? Hilarious, enjoyable, and deep, Back from the Front is an excellent and thought-provoking night of theatre.