Old Glory

When last we saw a production by Chicago expat scribe, Brett Neveau, it was American Dead at Rogue Machine/Theatre Theater — a tenderly written study of a murder investigation in a small Midwest town. Lo and behold, Neveau's latest is a murder investigation, similarly filled with subterranean currents of subtext beneath vividly colloquial dialogues whose main purpose is often to avoid the harsher truths that these very good actors' body language and facial tics can expose, as though with a spotlight. (Scenes between the soldiers are often lighted by each holding a flashlight.) The murder in Old Glory occurs in Fallujah where — never mind the War — two American GIs (Jarrett Sleeper and James Messenger) who share a barracks drive each other to paroxysms of mutual loathing. (So no, Gertrude, this is not really a play about the War but about the homefront.) After one of the soldiers ends up splayed in his barracks with a hole in his chest, his father (Pete Gardner) takes a sojourn to a Berlin bar, seeking out the CO (Tom Ormeny), who might know what really happened. Meanwhile, back in New Mexico, the victim's best friend (Chris Allen) struggles to tell what he knows to the victim's mother (Kathy Baily). And so, Brett Snodgrass' set trifurcates the stage into the three realistic settings — New Mexico, Fallujah and Berlin — so that the action's mosaic unfolds within these compartments. The ensuing stasis is almost belligerently anti-theatrical, compounded by Allen's lugubrious interpretation of the best friend in his scenes with the grief-stricken mother. (Bailey is particularly adept at burying her despondency beneath strata of terse propriety.) Director Carri Sullens elicits performances that flow with crosscurrents of hardship and fury, yet with a delicacy that's almost amiable. Ormeny and Gardner excel with these gifts. And the latent violence simmering between the soldiers — one a devotee of graphic novels, the other of real novels — speaks head-on to why the United States can't seem to generate a reasonable discourse with herself about anything that actually matters. The isolation of the three scenic compartments underscores that point but at a cost, rendering this production more cinematic than theatrical, despite some emotional volatility, as though the action aches for close-ups and camera angles deprived us in this room. Yet, like American Dead, it's another penetratingly written rumination, a lament even, for something indescribable that's been lost in this country — and to this country. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 West Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through April 25. (818) 851-5421.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Starts: March 5. Continues through April 25, 2010

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