A Human Shield
nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
October 3, 2008
Making its world premiere at 13th Street Rep, A Human Shield is a war drama depicting one family's struggle to overcome political differences, inevitably causing a father to question whether he can support and protect both of his daughters, who are fighting a war on opposing sides, without compromising his own values.
The drama begins when Roberta and Alberta Grant, 28-year-old twin sisters, reunite with their parents to celebrate New Year's Eve in their seemingly cozy Kansas City home, nicely detailed and designed by Hannah Smith, Scott Rodrique, and Robert Marra (who also directs). Little do the girls or their parents realize the shock and consequences that will follow with the important news that is shared. Mr. Grant, a war veteran, proudly announces he has been selected to run for Congress; moments after, both daughters declare they are leaving for Korea, where an impending invasion is taking place. While Alberta will be stationed there for military duty, Roberta plans to join a group of anti-war activists in forming a Human Shield, in hopes of physically deterring an invasion. With his reputation for Congressional candidacy to look after, Mr. Grant tries to dissuade Roberta from taking going (he supports Alberta), overlooking the fact that both of his daughters lives are in danger. Ultimately, this family battle between love and honor proves tragic..
Director Robert Marra's inventive use of the set to enact a live video conference and email exchange between each daughter and her parents is really wonderful. The staging of the actors physically and metaphorically away from each other, juxtaposed with their undeniable desire to be close, brings out emotions from the actors that are other times missing. Marra truthfully portrays the tug-of-war aspect of family relationships such as when Mrs. Grant cradles Roberta like a child, caressing her daughter's hair as she rants against a preacher's church sermon, before accusing her of betraying the family with her secrets; likewise, the twins often vacillate between familiar playfulness and estrangement over their opposing political standpoints.
Conflict is never absent from this piece; in fact, playwright Robert L. Kinast drops one at the end of every scene, often resulting in rapid transitions that glaze over some important beats. As for the ending, "less is more" rings true here. Kinast might have been better off ending the play earlier than he does; with the unnecessary extra weight, he dampens our ability to react to prior events which are already heavily loaded.
Considering the ongoing controversies we are currently facing regarding America's position in Iraq, and the large number of families around the country who are in fact intimately affected by this war, A Human Shield is a pertinent and poignant play that is sure to stir audiences of any political disposition.