Imagine that you are a soldier — an intelligence analyst — deployed to the Caribbean Command in Key West, Florida. Your daily tasks involve reading reports and commenting on them in air-conditioned comfort. You are also on the base beach volleyball team. Rum and beer flow freely, and every day is caressed by the Sun. What’s more, everyone considers you a hero. Life seems perfect — until you actually have to go to war. The setup is rife with comic and dramatic possibilities, and wonderful stories have mined it for high art — I’m thinking Catch-22, South Pacific, and the lovely James Garner-Julie Andrews movie The Americanization of Emily.
James Bruns’ Caribbean Command is not such a story.
Instead, it is a story in which the dyspeptic Master Sergeant Brent (Tony Angelo) whines about having to answer fan mail, largely because he feels embarrassed by the hero worship, given the plush conditions under which he works. But offered an opportunity to actually be heroic — by accepting an assignment to Iraq (although it first seems to be only an assignment to Tampa) — he backpedals at warp speed.
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This is the play’s dilemma: the Admiral, driven by a desire to make the Caribbean Command relevant to the Pentagon by sending an analyst to the war zone, needs a volunteer to go. And nobody volunteers. Suzanne (Chelsea Majors) has already had one tour and figures that’s enough. Rosario (Jennifer Esquivel) lacks the credentials, and also doesn’t want to leave Key West. And the supervisor, Ana (Maria Ortiz-Marquez) has no intention of giving up her soft command detail for the rigors of the Middle East.
About midway through the play we learn that Brent’s real objection is to the shots he’ll have to take in order to protect himself from Anthrax. (The military customarily gave soldiers shots of Ciprol, which has some side effects, to counteract Anthrax, a poison which the military thought was in the hands of Iraqi terrorists.) Thus it appears that our characters are more worried about being shot with Ciprol than they are about being shot.
What I’ve taken three paragraphs to summarize takes the play the better part of an hour to present. Bruns lards the play with several lines of how-are-you-doing type dialogue, which the cast delivers with a wholly unearned urgency. Worse, the play has no rising action; events occur out of the blue, and are justified only in retrospect. For example, there is no groundwork in the play for Brent’s refusal to be inoculated against Anthrax, and we learn why only after he has made his startling announcement. The effect is to be alienated from the story at the outset.
Similarly, the actors deliver their lines with an unearned emphasis. These are four characters who are terribly angry with each other, for unknown reasons. For this, I blame not the inexperienced actors but the director, who is the same person as the playwright. Though the line reads are not justified by the text they may be justified by what the text should have been. (I must say that Majors and Ortiz-Marquez are a little more convincing than their colleagues; this may have been because their parts were written a little more convincingly.)
Caribbean Command closes July 27, 2019 at Capital Fringe Festival. Details and tickets
At the play’s climax, the characters exchange bizarre and puerile conspiracy theories about the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, leading the audience member to conclude that our intelligence analysts have no intelligence.
Of course, the overarching question — never resolved or even addressed — is why the Caribbean Command needs a volunteer. If the Command wants to send one of its analysts to Iraq, why not just send one of its analysts to Iraq? There may be an answer to that question — even a comic answer — but Bruns never gives it.
In short, Caribbean Command is a tedious play, involving unlikeable characters, in an implausible dilemma, with unconvincing dialogue.
Caribbean Command, written and directed by James F. Bruns . Featuring Tony Angelo, Jennifer Esquivel, Chelsea Majors and Maria Ortiz-Marquez . Produced by Lights, Theatre, Action! for the 2019 Capital Fringe Festival . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.
Thekla Slade says
I truly enjoyed the play, every minute of it. The actors were great and also the story. I could totally relate to it.
Rob Helena says
This shows exactly what is so dangerous about this play. You didn’t know about “the anthrax vaccine issue” because it IS NOT TRUE. This play ends by calling 9/11 an inside job with Satanist overtones. It is Truther propaganda.
Wes MacAdam says
I found the review completely accurate, totally right on. The play was not ready and with editing and revision might be worth the time investment. As it is it is about one hour too long.
Barbara Bachrach says
I reacted completely differently to this play. I thought the actors were superb in their interaction and the depth of emotion they brought to the dilemma of finding a volunteer in their midst. The anthrax vaccine issue it revealed (to me, maybe other people closer to the military knew about it) was chilling. I also thought the deeper question of whether the country these people loved and wanted to protect was equally committed to protecting THEM was spot on (WMD? vets with substandard care and untreated mental health problems?)