Susan Austin Roth has written a play that is so powerful it may take your breath away. From the opening scene where we see Andy Armand, superbly acted by Joe Peck, looking for his buddy’s name on ‘The Wall’, Ms. Roth lets us know that this will not be an easy play to watch. Yet from this moment we are engaged, and she does not let us loose until the final line is spoken.
There is nothing superfluous here, every character adds a necessary element. In the three smaller roles, first, Roger Payano, as Andy’s buddy Ace, who looms over Andy both physically and emotionally throughout the play; he is the torment Andy cannot face but will not let go of. Second, Christopher Guy Thorn, as Pierre, another presence, not see by anyone but George, who will carry his memory forever as a result of their childhood bond and how that was broken. And finally, Tosia Shall, as Ludmilla, George’s Polish caretaker, who adds the perfect comic foil to an increasingly sad and difficult situation in her ability to go along with whatever George needs at the moment.
Robert Leembruggen as George Armand, the patriarch, is unrelenting as he reels from clarity into dementia, and back again. We get to know this man, his tenderness when he dances with his daughter, thinking she is his dead wife, and his bitterness toward his son, fueled by his own obstinate refusal to listen and recognize how very similar their experiences have been.
Lynn-Jane Foreman shines as Charlotte Armand, the perfect daughter trying to be everything to everyone at the cost of her own life and health. In desperation she tries to convince Andy how critical it is that he stay and make peace with their father. She reminds him there is no one but he who can help her. There are, she says, many “people who feel free to criticize, but they never offer help.”
Charlotte’s compassion for her father and brother is unabashed. In fact, her concern for her father’s deteriorating mental state has reached the point where she has convinced him he is staying at a vacation resort. She does not want him to know he is actually in a “home”, because he now requires more care than she can provide. Andy has returned at Charlotte’s request but she would like to understand why he is so tormented, what happened to him in Viet Nam.
Both George and Andy have war demons they have kept hidden in an effort to forget, yet by never facing them, they are both scarred; maybe beyond recovery. When Andy finally tells Charlotte why he went AWOL, how the chain of command had failed in Viet Nam, it is a revelation he does not want to share, but in doing so it helps them both more clearly understand their father’s secret, when they uncover his missing pages.
The end of this play will surprise and haunt you – it is a reminder that war, any war, is hell. This play is drama at it’s very best. Do yourself a favor; see this show.
By Susan Austin Roth
Directed by Diana Denley
Production team: Courtney Leigh Wood, Ann Grey, Alejandra Maudet, Christine Ryan
Reviewed by Marcia Kirtland