Playwright Charles Fuller delves into another grim aspect of military life in One Night.
His 1982 play A Soldier’s Story dealt with racism and black self-hatred at an Army base in Louisiana during World War II. This new play takes place in 2008 during the Iraqi War and examines rape in the armed forces.
In a shabby motel room along a busy highway, we meet Alicia G. (an expressively overwrought Kaliswa Brewster) and Horace Lloyd (Jason Babinsky, in a jittery and coiled performance), two Iraqi veterans not in the best shape. They were assigned to the motel room after the homeless shelter they were living in burned down.
Of the two, Alicia seems at first the most traumatized by her time as a truck-driving sergeant in what they call “the sandbox.” Anxious, fidgety and beset with hallucinations, Alicia’s alarming mental state is exacerbated by her gang-rape in Iraq by three fellow soldiers and a resulting pregnancy.
Her trauma is intensified by her decision to go public with the rapes and press charges against two of the men who assaulted her (the third man she could not identify.) Her decision does not exactly endear her to the military—or to her husband and mother. Cast aside by her biological and Army families, Alicia was living in her car when Lloyd finds her.
He has appointed himself Alicia’s protector of sorts, having known her peripherally when he was a sniper private in Iraq. Although passing as a couple, there is nothing sexual between them—Alicia is nowhere near ready for intimacy. And Lloyd seems to be suffering from PTSD, having flashbacks and panic attacks himself.
If One Night had concentrated on being a searing examination of rape in the military and its effects on one female sergeant who sacrificed mercilessly for her country, it would have packed a wallop. Instead, the play goes off in a thousand directions, frequently descending into melodrama and confusion until the message gets so diluted it almost does a disservice to rape victims.
Really, being gang-raped by three of your comrades and then finding yourself pregnant and having an abortion isn’t enough tragedy for Alicia? The playwright has to pile on more woes and betrayals until she resembles a helpless, fluttery heroine in an operetta—luckily, stopping shy of tying her to the railroad tracks while the bad guys twirl their handlebar moustaches.
Yecch. This is a highly trained sergeant we’re talking about, not Miss Sweet Polly Purebread. It gets to the point where every time there’s a knock on the door, you know trouble is on the other side. An absurd spin on the “knock, knock” joke, especially when the motel owner (Willie C. Carpenter) turns out to be a pimp running a prostitution ring out of the motel and is itching to recruit Alicia.
Closes August 3, 2014
Contemporary American Theatre Festival
Frank Center Stage
260 University Drive
Shepherdstown, West Virginia
1 hour, 40 minutes
Tickets: $53 – $59
Details and Tickets
The piling on of all this misfortune and madness trivializes rape and women in genenral, as if sexual assault were just one in a string of crosses women have to bear.
In Alicia’s case, her gang-rape has already been minimalized by Army brass. Cautioned by her lieutenant (Shauna Miles, strong in a variety of cameos) not to name names, Alicia goes ahead anyway. These flashback scenes are the play’s most powerful, as we learn that two of the men were given light punishment and that her commanding officer believes that women should not serve in combat because men will be men and they can’t help it—reinforcing the idea that the victim is guilty and complicit in the rape.
We also see how Alicia was further assaulted by the system, as she presses for justice as well as to get what is due to her as a veteran in desperate need of help. As a caseworker blithely explains away the bureaucratic red tape and asks Alicia to be patient, she utters perhaps the most searing line of the play “Why am I a hero if I die and a nuisance if I live?”
If only more of One Night were that honest and incisive.
One Night by Charles Fuller . Directed by Ed Herendeen . Featuring Jason Babinsky, Kaliswa Brewster, Willie C. Carpenter, Shauna Miles, and Brit Whittle . Set Design: David M. Barber . Costume Design: Devon Painter . Lighting Design: D.M. Wood . Sound Design: David Remedios .Stage Manager: Debra Acquavella . Produced by American Contemporary Theater Festival . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.