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Friday, November 18, 2011

When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again For a Modern Age


Larry Mitchell in ReEntry at Actors Theatre.
Photo by Alan Simons.

ReEntry
Written by Emily Ackerman & K.J. Sanchez
Directed by K.J. Sanchez


A review by Keith Waits


Entire contents are copyright © 2011 Keith Waits. All rights reserved. 


There is a definite tension present in the documentary play concept used in ReEntry. Although we are told at the top of the show that all of the dialogue will be “real” words drawn from extensive interviews with soldiers and their families, the delivery of those words in the format of a play, however effective, remains unmistakably artificial. The slick production uses dramatic lighting, music, and projected images to punctuate the stories of men and women attempting to return to civilian life after multiple tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, making a powerful case about the profound lack of understanding we have of their experience.


The observations culled from these interviews are often refreshingly unexpected. One that is particularly impactful is how a great many men and women in uniform feel awkward about being “thanked” for their service, in spite of the popular internet campaign encouraging people to do just that. At another point a Marine sarcastically complains about hearing about “war fatigue” among the civilian population. The two ideas together underscore one of the underlying themes of ReEntry: that many of the problems military service personnel face originate from the public’s misunderstanding of complexity of emotions soldiers often have about their service and a sense of guilt about the almost complete lack of comparable sacrifice from anyone other than military families. In other words, maybe it is more our problem than theirs. Where once we ignored returning veterans, have we now overcompensated with a patronizing attitude?


The material is fascinating and insightful, even if the parade of small scenes and monologues begins to grow a bit tedious over the course of 90 uninterrupted minutes, becoming, at times, a bit pedantic. The five actors deliver measured and forceful work. Yet so much of the dialogue is spoken directly to the audience that an academic, lecturing tone becomes unavoidable, and the “reality” of the source overcomes the opportunity for a discovery of greater nuance and depth that a fictional narrative might have perhaps allowed. Larry Mitchell’s portrayal of a C.O. delivering a briefing to families of military about to reenter civilian society helps frame the material, and he persuasively conveys a complex set of attitudes that merge the traditional, ramrod cliché of a steadfast Marine with a more subtle and contradictory sensibility. There was also nice work from Ben Rosenblatt, alternating the roles of two young Marines with a knack for rapid-fire contemporary speech patterns. Brandon Jones was a stalwart presence as the more seasoned characters, although his rich vocal delivery stubbornly remained superficial in its impact; an impassioned work without depth. Jessi Blue Gormezano suffered the same difficulty to a lesser degree, although she managed to find some better opportunity in the later portions of the script. Samerrah Luqmaan-Harris manages to execute three contrasting characters with some nicely delineated shifts in body language and attitude, her face suggesting the profound weariness of a much older character with supple transitions.


Whatever its limitations, ReEntry takes on a valuable mission with a thoughtfulness and willingness to engage the audience fully in the contradictions of the subject that is to be admired. Each performance includes a talkback discussion with the cast, emphasizing the consciously educational civic mission of the show’s creators, and it certainly seems a worthwhile endeavor.

ReEntry
November 15-December 17, 2011 
Actors Theatre of Louisville 
Pamela Brown Auditorium
Third & Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
502-584-1205
ActorsTheatre.org

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