- Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter
- by Julie Marie Myatt
Directed by Jessica Thebus
- Produced by Oregon Shakespeare Festival Production at the Kennedy Center
- Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
The basic story about a soldier carrying physical and emotional wounds trying to return to society, is as current and timeless as it gets. The specific treatment here is that before the main character Jenny Sutter can tackle all the “issues” of returning home, she finds herself in a kind of halfway makeshift community of misfits, cast offs, and eccentrics who care for her wounded soul and help her heal. Described as an “edgy and poignant drama,” Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter explores the human element that is as important as the clinical and medicinal in the healing process.
From the opening moments where the main character changes her clothes on stage, several scenes are paced in real time, feeling slow and maybe even off-putting at first until you settle comfortably in the play’s own rhythm. The opening scene has a purpose, to show how the everyday routines are now different for Jenny as she struggles to put her prosthetic leg into her jeans. She then sits in a bus depot for hours as buses come and go without boarding anything, until a strange woman offers her a place to stay at her place, Slab Point whose inhabitants all have their own wounds but help each other get through the day.
All the actors have strong New York stage skills. Kate Mulligan also hails from numerous bit parts on TV, her playing Lou is the funniest character I’ve run across in years. With rapid fire and sheepish delivery, she has a waif “Ellen DeGeneres” type quality, is the heart and soul-tending angel of the show and the community, and is obviously meant to balance the taciturn Jenny. She periodically takes to the road in her efforts to “come clean” since as a compulsive, she’s sworn off not just the usual drinking, drugs, cigarettes, but also gambling, sex, sugar, etc-anything that brings joy to life-and as such, she is a jittery, deprived mess eating only carrots and popping multivitamins. She’s hilarious and is as much a main character as Jenny since we explore the other characters through her eyes.
Slab Point is more like a camp where the inhabitants live in RV’s and double-wides, sharing a community bathroom on the side of the encampment. Throughout the production, we see them crossing the stage in various lighting depicting the time of day, early morning in nightgowns and robes, carrying toiletries, and at dusk for their evening rituals. Almost imperceptibly, the director, Jessica Thebus relays the message that no matter what you’re dealing with, life goes on, one foot in front of the other.
Lighting designer, the constantly fabulous Allen Lee Hughes, includes the audience as fellow inhabitants – the light never goes totally dark in the house and generally stays at a half-lit glow. This becomes particularly poignant during the several group therapy sessions or “sermons” on Sunday morning delivered by Buddy (David Kelly), the makeshift minister with healing issues of his own. Buddy was so badly beaten as a child that his bones have fused all crooked and misshapened giving him a twisted and distorted appearance. That hasn’t stopped him from having a heart full of love and compassion, with a wife on one hand while trying desperately to fend off Lou’s irresistible advances on the other. So he has his hands full trying to be the moral center of the community.
Another interesting character Donald is described as “disinterested” in everything with no social skills, who creeps around with a Steven Wright type droll delivery. The casting director struck gold with all the actors, but especially with Gregory Linington who casts aspersions and uncomfortable truths that nobody wants to hear and own up to, sometimes launching them inconsiderately like grenades. His role at the beginning and end reflects the transformation of Jenny’s character and the power of a kiss.
In time, Jenny learns to open up and accept life’s new realities-it’s a tough road, but the community’s unconditional affection breaks down the boulder of resentment that she’s been rolling for some time, obviously even before she was wounded at war. With true Marine grit and self reliance, she’s fiercely independent and has returned with enough demons to leave her thrashing in nightmares. Despite stoic, almost impassive expressions, she can still express such tender longings as, “Give me something to believe in.” Gwendolyn Mulamba portrays her as guarded and immovable, with a “get on with it” approach to life’s mishaps. While Mulamba portrays Jenny’s uncompromising and unsentimental strength beautifully, the script calls for such enormous subtext for this complex character, namely her relationship with her unseen and unheard family and children, that I needed a little more expression, something happening behind the eyes at pivotal moments to help relay her full path and journey.
Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter is part of the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays and once again, a gem was selected. The current rigors of war demand that diverse voices be heard and experiences shared to reflect the multidimensional aspects of the thousands of lives affected. This show helps to highlight and amplify one of the voices, and it resonates with truth, sincerity, and hope for a welcome home.
- Running Time: 1:35, no intermission
- When: Thru July 27th, Thursday – Saturday at 7:30, and Saturday and Sunday at 2pm
- Where: Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566
- Tickets: $25, but email discounts available
Call: 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or consult the website.