Review: Bury the Dead (Promethean Theatre Ensemble)

  
  

Promethean Ensemble misfires in play about war

  
  

Quinn White, Carl Lindberg, Jared Fernley, Joel Kim Booster, Brian Pastor, Dylan Stuckey - Promethean Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead'

  
Promethean Theatre Ensemble presents
  
Bury the Dead
  
Wirtten by Irwin Shaw
Directed by Beth Wolf
at The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)
thru May 21  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

When Irwin Shaw penned Bury the Dead in 1936, World War I was still lodged like an artillery shell in the American psyche. An astounding nine million combatants lost their lives fighting in the trenches of Europe in what would be the last war largely fought on foot. At the time, no one could conceive that greater methods of mass destruction were on the horizon and that more death lie in waiting.

Brit Cooper Robinson and Joel Kim Booster. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.Although the play is not specifically about any war (according to the script, it is about a fictitious war that has not yet been fought), it is about the massive human toll that war takes and the desire for a society to forget the dead in an effort to pacify the psychic pain. This phenomenon that certainly existed post-World War I remains today. But today’s wars are oranges compared to yesterday’s apple battles. As societies have bled over borders and become global communities and mass communication is a "Like" button away, the dynamics of war that Shaw highlights do not stand the test of time. Vastly enhanced mobility and weapons technology have drastically reduced the number of causalities. Although military deaths are still a topic for discussion, personal freedoms, religious zealotry, resource acquisition, financial costs and nation building are the predominant concerns of today.

This is unfortunate considering the Promethean Theatre Ensemble decided to take the script, virtually untouched, and plop it into the present world (or more accurately 2013). What results is one of the most hilariously ill-conceived updated period pieces I have ever seen. Just take the opening scene. Two soldiers, presumably in either Iraq or Afghanistan, are shoveling sand graves for their fallen comrades as their sergeant stands watch. They begin smart-talking to each other, commenting on the smell of the bodies and the exhaustion felt from physical labor. But instead of speaking in the contemporary vernacular, the two soldiers sport hilariously anachronistic Brooklyn accents and use such words as "gyped" and "stiff." This would be fine if we were observing a couple of wise guys hanging out at the Black and Tan in 1930, but it’s just blatantly bizarre for 21st-century soldiers.

Besides the dialogue, which is only made more cringe-worthy by the scenery-chewing cast, the artistry of the story is non-existent. David Mamet has written that any play that serves to grandstand is not a play worth producing. Shaw’s play is one giant anti-war polemic. There is no devil’s advocate, no counter view that is meant to challenge our own preconceived notions of war. It is just a long diatribe that preaches to the choir. And today’s choir is too intelligent for this kind of preachy pandering. Challenge us. Make us question our views. The last thing an audience wants to do is wallow in the sense that we were right all along. When a soldier ruminates that "Kids shouldn’t be dead," you can just feel the audience collectively shouting "Duh!"

     
Shawna Tucker and Quinn White in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead' by Irwin Shaw. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography. "Bury the Dead" Cast in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's Irwin Shaw play. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.

The play is about seven dead soldiers who choose to stand in defiance and refuse to be buried and forgotten. In the second act, the military—in a remarkably chauvinistic move—contacts the soldier’s wives, mothers and sisters to coax them into the grave. What follows is a series of two-person scenes with more wistful gazing and maudlin emoting than a Lifetime movie. If you’re a fan of repetitious dialogue (e.g., "Let me see your face. Just let me see your face!"), be prepared to get your fill.

With Bury the Dead, Promethean Theatre has produced the equivalent of taking “Gone with the Wind” and setting it in China. This confusing and poorly thought out concept is further harmed by uneven performances and heavy-handed direction. Yes, the script certainly has its flaws, but with some clever updates, it could still have made for an entertaining watch. But save for a Katy Perry reference, the script seems strangely naive, turning what should be a tense drama into a bizarre farce.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

Marco Minichiello and David Fink in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead' by Irwin Shaw. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.

Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s Bury the Dead, by Irwin Shaw, continues through May 21st at The Artistic Home, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $20, and can be purchased by phone (800-838-3006) or online. For more information, visit prometheantheatre.org.

All photos by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography, © 2011.

     

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Review: Redtwist Theatre’s “Lettice and Lovage”

The Joy of Eccentricity

Millicent Hurley (Lettice) and Jan Ellen Graves (Lotte)

Redtwist Theatre presents:

Lettice and Lovage

 

by Peter Shaffer
directed by Steve Scott
thru November 8th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Millicent Hurley (Lettice) and Jan Ellen Graves (Lotte) The Redtwist Theatre production of Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage is nothing but pure comic delight. Director Steve Scott keeps it simple and allows the talents of Millicent Hurley (Lettice) and Jan Ellen Graves (Lotte) to take flight. Starting out as opponents, Lettice and Lotte solidify their friendship over shared confessions of their philosophies and tastes. Hurley and Graves ground their characters in the fullness of flesh and blood, accenting their foils’ eccentricities without a hint of condescension. The result is a comedy whipped up to deceptively light and careless fun. Sterling and well-balanced performances by Jim Morley (Bardolph) and Maura Kidwell (Miss Framer) set the production like a little diamond in silver.

Charlotte “Lotte” Schoen, manager of tours conducted through Fustian House in Wiltshire, England, must sack Lettice Douffet for deviating from the official tour script. But Lettice, who believes her duty is “to enlarge, to enliven, to enlighten” her tourist audience, finds Fustian House “haunted by the ghost of Nothing Ever Happened” and since “fantasy floods in where fact leaves a vacuum,” feels free to embellish on family estate history. Though Lotte cannot allow Lettice to have free reign with the facts, she is drawn nevertheless into Lettice’s world and reveals passions one would never have thought possible in her staid, practical nature.

L-and-L4 L-and-L5

The light, quick precision of Hurley and Graves’ performances allows Shaffer’s comedy to be what it was intended: a little rebellion against the grayness of the modern world that champions the imagination against resigned acceptance to what is. Lettice and Lotte may indeed act like schoolgirls, but their childlike play sets the soul free from crushing convention. In laughing with, as well as at, their shenanigans the audience becomes their co-conspirators.

“Without danger, there is no theater,” says Lettice, a woman whose whole life confronts head on the fear of appearing ridiculous. But what is that compared with submitting to the absurdity of promoting an inedible cheese product at a supermarket for her living? Beneath Lettice’s brave eccentricities lies the incapacity to accept the gross absurdities of capitalist civilization; just as beneath Lotte’s practicality lies a radical revulsion against modern ugliness. Their blossoming friendship gives them the freedom to be themselves with each other and, who knows, perhaps create an alternative future. For a couple of hours, we get to steep in the light of their growing bond with each other and enjoy the freedom of their bloodless revolution.

Rating: ««««

Millicent Hurley (Lettice) and Jim Morley (Bardolph)

Production Personnel

 

Playwright: Peter Shaffer
Director: Steve Scott
Stage Manager: Shauna Warren
Scenic Design: Jack Magaw
Light Design: Christopher Burpee
Sound Design: Christopher Kriz
Costume Design: Erin Fast
Cast: Jan Ellen Graves
Millicent Hurley
Maura Kidwell
Tom Lally
Jim Morley