BWW Review: MAP Theatre's THE ART OF BAD MEN – Touching but a Bit Unfocused

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Peggy Gannon and Benjamin McFadden in
MAP Theatre's The Art of Bad Men
Photo credit: Shane Regan

World War II soldiers trying to survive in a POW camp, we've seen this story many times before. But in Vincent Delaney's "The Art of Bad Men", currently being offered from MAP Theatre, we see a different side of the POW experience, from the point of view of the German soldiers being held in America. And while the play was filled with superb performances and some quite powerful moments it lacked a unifying thread to draw its disparate stories together.

In "The Art of Bad Men" we meet three German soldiers; Kurt, Gerhardt and Franz. Each of these men is being held in a prisoner of war camp in Minnesota. Yes, we had POW camps in America. Not something the history books really spotlight is it? But these three men each have very different takes on life in the camp. Kurt (Benjamin McFadden) attempts to remain a good party member and tow the line until the day the other German soldiers win the war and come to save them. Gerhardt (Ben Burris) has a more laid back view of their life there trying to find happiness wherever he can through music and what little pleasures they get even by befriending their not so on the ball guard Harvey (Brandon Ryan). And Franz (Sean Schroeder) is just a teenager who doesn't really know who he is or what he believes except that he's terrified to be there. But even as the war draws to a close, things for these men change as Franz attempts to put on a play by Moliere, Gerhardt begins a relationship with a local farm girl Cordelia (Grace Carmack) and Kurt gets an unexpected visit from his Sister Emma (Peggy Gannon) who now lives in America with her American husband.

The play itself is filled with rich characters and sweet, touching and powerful scenes but each of the three main characters have their own element of the play and those elements never quite bring it all together at the end. There is a central element of the prisoners putting on the Moliere play but with that device I would expect the play or production itself to affect or comment on the soldiers and their experience and it did not. And so the play ends up as three stories (as engaging as they are) orbiting around each other with no solid ending to bring them all in line.

Burris brings in a wonderful nonchalant air to his character especially considering his situation. And his relationship with Carmack had tons of lovely and complex chemistry. Ryan too brings in a great relationship of a different kind as the likable camp guard who's not sure how he feels towards his charges. Schroeder is heartbreakingly adorable as the way too young soldier caught up in this war. But the real power of the piece comes from the multi-layered relationship between McFadden and Gannon as estranged siblings on opposite sides of the war both geographically and ideologically. Two truly incredible performances from two truly gifted actors.

The show itself is an engaging one and director Kelly Kitchens manages to keep the messages and moments crystal clear and the pace flowing especially with her simple yet stylized scene changes. Overall I was tempted to go with a MEH+ with my three letter rating system as the piece itself just lacked an overarching theme or message to pull these three stories together but as insular as the stories were they were all quite interesting and filled with sublime performances which raises it up to a YAY. A thoroughly interesting piece of a part of American history we know too little about just lacking that unifying moment to bring it all home.

"The Art of Bad Men" from MAP Theatre performs at theLAB@Inscape through October 17th. For information on the show or to set up Pay What You Can tickets, visit Map Theatre online at www.map-theatre.com.



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From This Author Jay Irwin