“Am I going to Heaven? Can we, with what we’ve done? I’ve put a check in every damn box, but I know that doesn’t change the past.”
The premise is simple: two old vets, sitting on a bench and tossing breadcrumbs to pigeons, shooting the breeze and reminiscing about their pasts.
And yet – what pasts they are. There is a temptation to think that PTSD is limited to recent vets, the men and women who are just now returning from places like Iraq and Afghanistan and (hopefully) being encouraged to get the help they need while their wounds are fresh.
But two old vets shooting the breeze with the pigeons are just as likely to be suffering as those who have just come home, and they’ve been living with their demons for far longer. Men who can, like Melvin (William Powell, Jr), say “I didn’t get no treatment, I just buried all of that.”
The script by first-time playwright Melanie FIona Bevell-Jackson has promise, with strong lines that go straight to the heart. The challenge lies in keeping it conversational and bringing out the power of the moments and anecdotes. It is a challenge to which the cast manages to rise only part of the time.
by Melanie Fiona Bevell-Jackson
at Goethe Institut
812 7th Street NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
While BenchMARKS’ focus is conversations between Frank (David Berkenbilt) and Melvin, the standout performances belong to wives Alma (Tramaine Stevenson) and Maggie (Cristen Stephansky). The relationship between Stevenson and Powell is especially touching, both because of their powerful connection and the effervescent light Stevenson brings to her character.
Another specially poignant moment came during a short flashback to Franks’ childhood, with him cowering in a corner while his parents yelled. Not all scars come from war.
Despite some powerful lines and touching stories, the play on a whole fell flat. The characters talked about what happened to them, but I couldn’t see the effect of those events on their psyches. Powerful images needed more time to breathe, to allow the massiveness of what these two vets – and in truth, all vets – have experienced to really hit home.
Festivalgoers looking for a piece with moments that will tug at their heartstrings and bring a new perspective to an issue that is increasingly in focus in our society should enjoy BenchMARKS. Maybe someday veterans will no longer need to say “You can’t understand this pain, no one can.”