Actor Joe Harrell, a former U.S. Marine drill instructor, perfectly cast as the "CO" (commanding officer), addresses the Friday night Center Stage audience, momentarily transformed into the mothers and fathers of young men and women training to become soldiers.
"We are naturally conditioned not to pull the trigger. We can't have that in the Marine Corps," he states.
Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez's new play, "ReEntry," takes a frank and honest look at what it's like for "last year's high school senior," exposed to all manner of "behavioral modification," to be able to pull that trigger, to kill up close and personal, to watch buddies be killed, up close and personal, and to return to civilian life.
The transition is hardly seamless, and the challenges all face--those on the battlefield and those waiting at home--is what drives the play, the dialogue based on interviews with real-life veterans and their families.
The 90-minute, one-act play toggles between the stories of brothers Charlie and John (Bobby Moreno and PJ Sosko), both Marines; their sister, Liz (Sheila Tapia), and the family matriarch, referred to only as "Mom" (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris); and Pete (Sosko) an injured soldier, and his wife, Maria (Luqmaan-Harris).
The majority of the interviews take place in either small bars or, as in the case of Pete and Maria, a diner. There is no set, simply a stage, but also a large interactive video screen divided into four segments. Video is used very effectively in the play, particularly in closing images of a battlefield explosion and in scenes where the characters are interviewed with a camera, but never takes over or dominates the action on the stage.
Harrell's CO observes, "there is no mythical warrior culture," and real-life combat bears little or no resemblance to the "Hollywood chest thumping" of war movies. Reality is not "Ramboesque." It's clear that the point of this play is to tell the truth--the struggle of human beings to bear the emotion, fear, mental fatigue, sleep deprivation, stress and uncertainty (factors listed on the stage video screen, among others) that must be borne if one is to survive war.
It's truth that's entertainingly delivered, often with a comic edge. Sosko's John has some of the plays best lines. Discussing his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), he describes his encounter with a disrespectful teenage skateboarder. "It went zero to homicidal in about three seconds," he recalls.
Moreno, who also plays the dark-sunglassed Tommy, explains how he answers a woman's charge of being a "baby-killer." "Yeah," he drawls. "Got any kids?"
But the play is just as effective in showing the civilian's perspective through family members like Liz and Mom. Liz downplays her worry about her brothers but notes her tendency to "save all of their phone messages," as you never know when that last message might be the last.
Kudos especially to Ms. Luqmaan-Harris, who, with a simple tilt of her shoulder and other subtle changes in body languages, convincingly transforms herself from a near-60 Mom to the young wife of the maimed Pete.
All the soldiers interviewed are Marines and, not unlike a Hollywood interpretation, the dialogue is often quite "blue," especially when it is John who is talking. But John is anything but vulgar or ignorant in his observations, despite the profanities. Can an active soldier just turn off being a soldier? "We're like gladiators. Try taking a gladiator to dinner," he says. Compared to the savageries of war, the banalities of daily civilian life seem painfully trite. "Why is everyone so hung up on recycling? Oooh, I've got to recycle this milk carton! It's like a Tyrannosaurus Rex taking a (bleep) on a napkin so as not to make a mess."
One begins to understand why people, trained to kill with hands bloody from the fight, find a return to civilian life more difficult than returning to war.
ReEntry continues its run at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert Street, now through Sunday, Dec. 19th. Tickets are on sale through the box office at 410-332-0033 or online at www.centerstage.org.