Review: Trinity Rep's 'Boots on the Ground'

By: Apr. 21, 2006
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"Boots on the Ground" is a phrase that has been in the English lexicon for less than three decades, yet, most folk know that "boots" are soldiers and "on the ground" means that the soldiers are deployed overseas.

 

"Boots on the Ground" is also the name of Trinity Rep's newest play.Conceived and written by Laura Kepley and D. Salem Smith "Boots" is an oral history of sorts. 200 hours of conversation regarding the war in Iraq and its impact on Rhode Islanders are condensed into this 90-minute play.

 

70 Rhode Islanders were interviewed.The stories told through the actors are the stories of soldiers, their wives, girlfriends, family and the community.Priests, medical professionals and a journalist talk about the legacy of this war,  here in Rhode Island.

 

The evening is presented as two acts.The first act is the stories. The stories are, at times, hopeful and humorous, full of gallows humor.They are alternately horrific, with graphic descriptions of events that haunt them in their dreams.

 

 

 

The play is careful to be balanced, with most of the folks feeling conflicted over many things, except a feeling of loss:  loss of life, loss of time, loss of innocence.The audience hears from folks who draw a line directly from September 11, 2001 to the war in Iraq and from folks who regard the current administration with skepticism.

 

There are a few characters (I hesitate to call them "characters") whose stories run throughout the play, intertwined with shorter stories. 5 members of Trinity Rep's company are these Rhode Islander's representatives in the theater.  The dialogue is present in both dialogue and monologue form. The play is a true ensemble, with each member of the cast delivering an equitable heft of script.Richard Donnelly, Anne Scurria, Stephen Thorne, Rachel Warren and Joe Wilson Jr. portray our neighbors, who are placed in extraordinary circumstances in Iraq or dealing with the war's cost here in Rhode Island.

 

The play opens and closes with Christian and Amy.Christian, is a soldier and Amy his wife, trying to keep their life and relationship together while he is deployed.It is a love story that takes war in stride.

 

Providence Journal Executive Editor, Joel Rawson who is a Vietnam veteran and was imbedded for a short time with troops in Iraq, provides a historical context for the play.His portrayal by Richard Donnelly appears effortless, as if we were watching Mr. Rawson himself.He provides a historical, fatherly perspective on the war.

The most moving story told is the story of Chris Potts. His story is told by multiple people, each telling the story from a different, heart-breaking perspective.

 

Potts was 38 years old when he was killed in action in Iraq on 3 October 2004, while serving with A Battery, 1/103rd Field Artillery, Rhode Island Army National Guard.He left behind a wife and two sons.A medic who was trying to save Potts' life was shot and killed as well.

 

 You may have seen his name in some recent news stories. Chris Potts' memory is being carried on by his fellow soldiers. Last Monday, two members of the 1/103rd Field Artillery marched the course of the Boston Marathon, in full gear, to raise money for the SSG Christopher Potts Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides educational scholarships to children of Rhode Island National Guard members.

 

 

 

There is a ten-minute intermission between acts one and two.Act two is a "talk back", a half hour dialogue between members of the audience: about the war in Iraq and how it has affected them.Rhode Island Council for the Humanities sponsors and moderates the discussion.Audience members agree on a simple set of ground rules and then begin to sort through their feelings and reactions.

 

The topics of last night's discussion ranged from "lessons we didn't learn from Vietnam" to the possibility that there was currently "a new kind of draft, that is a draft relating to class".

 

"Boots on the Ground" is often uncomfortable in its candor, it does not "whitewash" or tip-toe around uncomfortable issues.It is wonderfully conceived, and honestly acted.

Throughout the evening, and beyond, the material that "Boots" is drawn from, and the people who provided it, are treated with enormous respect and appreciation.

 

On a lighter note, if you get a moment, check out www.camelspiders.net.  It is a website that is referenced a few times during the play and worth the visit.

 

"Boots on the Ground" runs from April 14 - May 21, 2006 in the Dowling Theater.The audience is welcome to attend the act two discussion on multiple evenings.Trinity Rep requests that they arrive 90 minutes after show time and show their original ticket stub to enter.

 

All photos: T. Charles Erickson

 

www.trinityrep.com



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