Perhaps in years to come we will better appreciate the horrors of the battle of Aleppo, Syria which stretched from 2012-2016. Playwright Darcy Parker Bruce makes a valiant attempt to render the story on a personal level in Soldier Poet, a world premiere at Theatre Prometheus which presents the human costs of war on the civilians more successfully than on the soldiers.
It’s late summer in 2016. After years of siege and battle damages, Syrian government forces are on the verge of crushing rebel opposition and retaking Aleppo. In its zeal to complete its victory, Syrian forces aided by Russian airstrikes, are engaging in ever more violent attacks. Some of these attacks are carried out by crude “barrel bombs” which indiscriminately blast shrapnel and chlorine gas at civilian targets, even hospitals.
A two-person Army Ranger team is on a mission to disrupt these operations when Ben (Nora Spellane) hears a cry from inside a bombed building. Ben persuades reluctant partner Connor (Keanu Ross-Cabrera) to help him rescue a very pregnant Fatima (Dina Soltan) and transport her to the area’s only hospital. She is helped through the birth of her son by one of the few remaining medical professionals, neonatal nurse Qamar (Fatima Razi), who is also Fatima’s sister.
The situation sets up multiple dramatic questions. Have the soldiers rescued Fatima once only to cause her likely death from a bombing of the hospital? Will the soldiers continue to defer their assigned mission to try and evacuate her and her newborn son as Qamar requests? Should Qamar stay at the hospital to take care of other newborns or leave to a site where she might do even more good?
Soldier Poet is a powerful work with much to recommend. Playwright Darcy Parker Bruce uses skillful exposition to introduce the characters and their backgrounds. She allows us to see the horrors of the situation and difficulties raised by lack of mutual understanding and the limited American role in the conflict.
The actresses portraying the two Syrian women are outstanding. Dina Soltan memorably portrays the anguish of a pregnant woman whose husband has been missing yet still maintains a tinge of optimism. Fatima Razi balances the strength, the fatigue, and the sense of responsibility of a nurse duty-bound to protect the next generation of Syria.
closes December 21, 2017
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The other cast members are talented, but constrained by the less convincing characterizations they are given. Ben’s concern about “control” is written in a very heavy-handed manner given the famed adaptability of Special Forces soldiers. Ditto for Connor’s interest in going back to peacetime as a hero.
Director Lauren Patton and her artistic team present a convincing wartime story set on a dark stage of chicken wire and ruins. The bombing and battle sounds are realistic and involving. Despite their best efforts, however, a scene of magical realism late in the play that is poetic on the page doesn’t translate well to the audience.
Soldier Poet is that rare kind of play that left this reviewer wishing it was longer to better flesh out and focus some of the central conflicts. However, Soldier Poet’s portrayal of the war in Syria is vital and important. Both Darcy Parker Bruce and Theatre Prometheus deserve kudos for tackling a difficult story in a personal and powerful manner.
Soldier Poet by Darcy Parker Bruce. Directed by Lauren Patton. Featuring Fatima Razi, Keanu Ross-Cabrera, Dina Soltan, and Nora Spellane. Stage Manager: Caelan Tietze. Production Manager: Patrick Landes. Assistant Stage Manager: Sophie Herreid. Lighting & Scenic Designer: Yannick Godts. Sound Designer: Tosin Olufolabi. Costume Designer: Kristina Martin. Dramaturg: Sarah Pultz. Technical Director. Eric McMorris. Master Electrician: Ian Claar. Casting: Rachel Messbauer. Syrian Dialect Translations by Noor Baker. Presented by Theatre Prometheus. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.