Finding a balance between grit and eloquence is hard. Finding a balance between the down to earth reality and the dreamy other-worldliness of art is just as difficult.
Unstrung Harpist tackles Body Armor in hopes of finding that balance. At times, they find just the right mixture, blending the above elements into an elegant cocktail of a show. But for the most part, it feels like a struggle wading through the wordy show.
Playwright Evan Crump seeks to tell a different sort of military story, and to a certain extent, he fulfills his mission. It is not your typical military-type play. We do, however, find the stock army-types: Major Brian Forsythe (played by Bill Gordon) represents the ‘career-man’, who keeps going back to war because being a soldier feels more normal than existing in society. Sgt. Seamus Hardy (Kevin O’Reilly), is a bit more of an everyman fellow with the “it’s just a job” mentality. Lastly, you have you fresh faced newbie in Private Jeremy Applessed (Nick Martin). Your non-stock character comes in the form of Mina Sajadi (Devora Zack).
Gordon carries himself with all the pomp of the seasoned vet. His strong tone, posture, and, well, barking resonate well with the image of a career soldier. O’Reilly’s Hardy is rude, a bit racist, and is generally quite jaded with everything. O’Reilly carries himself with just the right amount of slouch and snark, while still maintaining the aura of a soldier.
Martin’s Appleseed has got the dumb puppy-dog act quite solid, while Zack’s mysterious, fragile, but strong-willed Mina moves about the stage with a surprising sort of grace unexpected of the piece. All of them under Keegan Cassady’s direction tackle their work with an enjoyable spirit and heart.
by Evan Crump
at Fort Fringe – The Shop
607 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
Cassady’s staging is interesting and purposeful, and allows the blurry lines of the play’s world to inhabit the Gearbox with a surprisingly intricate life. However, the wordiness of the play is difficult to overcome, and the play begins to drag.
The transitions between present time and past seemed a bit jarring at first, the characters taking on multiple roles which takes getting used to. However, due to one brilliantly inserted line earlier in the play, it works beautifully. When that moment of realization hits, it’s hard not to go “OH!”.
Crump is obviously well-researched. His writing is intelligent, and he builds a world that resembles a militaristic No Exit. The usual jargon and politics concerning the Iraq and Afghan wars are mixed in, but the piece still succeeds in providing a human perspective.
In the characterization itself, however, the attempts to break out of the archetypal roles set by years of works about soldiers in war-time do not work nearly as well. Crump throws the audience a few curve balls in terms of personality and back-story for the characters, but they are not strong enough to pull the four soldiers from anything beyond their initial impressions.
There are a few reveals for each of the characters, none of which pack the impact required to elevate them to a new level of humanity. They’re still stuck in the same roles that we so often see. Some of the characters seem to come out of nowhere. It would’ve been nice to see them developed into something, but instead, they appear to be brushed off. It makes sense for the play, but one can wish.
As for the impact of the piece, it seemed to hold the same note the entire time. While the soldiers stay trapped in the plane, the audience feels trapped on a very similar emotional state for the duration of the show. Even as catastrophe occurs around them, and the wounds, both physical and spiritual, become a bit more grievous, it feels like there is very little forward momentum. Rather, it’s a downward spiral. To find the momentum in that sort of story arc is very difficult, and despite the brave attempt, it did not quite land.