BWW Review: Psychological aftermath of war is explored in BOOGIEBAN at 13th Street Repertory Theatre
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the mental health condition explored in DC Fidler's play Boogieban. Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Caplan is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He now works for the military evaluating soldiers and their emotional fitness. Specialist Jason Wynsky is his newest charge, a man recently returned from Afghanistan. This two character play sets up a stimulating juxtaposition of the experience of war and its impact on men from different eras.
Caplan is just one week from retirement. Boxes are beginning to be filled with his books. His wife is nagging him on the phone to come home and go sailing. Wynsky is going to be his last patient. Their meetings will proceed from vaguely innocuous (and sometimes snarky) chatter to a deeply riveting meditation on what our brave soldiers have and continue to endure.
This playwright has over four decades of clinical psychiatry and psychology expertise. The story is definitely written to be therapeutically redemptive for those individuals and their families who may have endured similar scarring journeys. "We know how to send our young to war. We know to welcome them back with parades, garlands and trumpets. We have never known how to bring home their hearts and souls."
David Peacock portrays the older Caplan. Wiser from age and experience, he understands the military is where "mature farts exploit immature farts." Living and breathing a call to serve, his son followed in his footsteps and died. The American flag box sits prominently on a shelf. Caplan is the stiff-upper lip type but tinged with the weariness of a man who has seen enough suffering in this lifetime. He heals others while still quietly healing himself.
Specialist Wynsky is played by Travis Teffner. There is a casualness to this performance that is endearingly relaxed and original. The role could easily be hard-nosed, defensive and off-putting, especially at first. The character is not an amalgam of PTSD stories previously chronicled elsewhere. Instead, this unique individual is filled with his own interesting, personalized details (such as the T-Rex).
As you would expect, Wynsky's protective emotional battle armor will eventually reveal a complicated core. His troubled mother gave birth to her son at the age of fourteen but abandoned him to be raised by his grandmother. The structure of the army as a way out and forward is clear.
Over the course of nearly two hours, Boogieban will alternate between the evaluation sessions and ruminations from the elder Caplan. There are multiple sections which do seem long and meandering. The payoff in the last thirty minutes, however, is worth the investment. What are this young soldiers nightmares all about? Director Sean Derry guided a powerful finale filled with heightened dramatic tension which hits hard and then sustains its compelling focus.
There is convenient coincidence introduced near the end of the play which feels forced and unnecessary in order to have both men provide solace to each other. However, the multi-generational framework and the ability to think about right and wrong with the wisdom of experience hits the mark and is effective. This play has a soul.
DC Fidler's Boogieban does contain some broad commentary about the long-lasting damage inflicted upon our American troops. Since we are a country always at war now, his heartfelt plea for greater understanding, empathy and treatment is critically important. If this play can provide a beacon for healing to anyone in need, then this important mission will have been accomplished.
Boogieman is being presented by none too fragile theatre based in Akron, Ohio at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre through September 29th.