Friday, February 27, 2009

Militant Language, Bang & Clatter/Cleveland

(These Iraq War fighters are significantly more believable the soldiers in this Bang & Clatter play.)

News Flash: The Iraq War is long and difficult and it’s going to be hard to resolve it to everyone’s satisfaction. That’s the nugget of startling wisdom at the heart of Militant Language, the longest 70-minute play you’re ever likely to see that’s now occupying space at the Bang and Clatter Theatre in Cleveland.

Primary blame for this theatrical misery goes to playwright Sean Christopher Lewis, who apparently misunderstood the term “topical play.” While most of us believe that term refers to a play ripped from today’s headlines, Mr. Lewis evidently took it to mean superficial, as in a topical application of ointment. And he spreads some thin, greasy, platitudinous stuff around pretty generously in this piece.

Set at a construction site somewhere in Irag, five soldiers (four male, one female) are guarding the site and killing time by engaging in rape, gay sex, and endless pontificating about religion, the destructiveness of war and the inability to communicate. Onto the scene comes Huda, an Iraqi woman who is looking for a local teenage boy who has disappeared.

Did I mention that sand continually falls from the sky? And that the female soldier finds an infant in a straw basket whom she names Moses?

Caught somewhere between magical realism and Full Metal Jacket, this play has no idea where it’s going. And the characters are so clumsily drawn, the platform-footed grunts in Toy Story seem shatteringly profound by comparison.

Perhaps this all might have gone a bit better in different hands, but director Daniel H. Taylor is at a loss to help his mostly college student cast make sense of it all. Soldier Wallace, played by Scott Thomas, is all over the place—starting as a wise-cracking southern hick, morphing into a sensitive gay boy and then finishing as a psycho with murder on his mind. That’s an arc that perhaps could be covered given another two hours of script, a capable playwright, and Edward Norton in the role.

As Captain Crane, Rick Bowling shouts a lot but without the context of any definable character. And Raina Semivan as the female soldier Beed swallows her lines when she isn’t speeding through them.

On the oh, so slender plus side, talented Michael May does what he can for the introspective soldier Goop, but his speeches are stunning in their sappy grasping for some sort of wartime or personal truth. While not as focused as May, at least Joshua Davis as soldier Jacks and Jocelyn Roueiheb as Huda don’t fully embarrass themselves.

Just like the Iraq War itself, Militant Language is poorly thought out, lamely executed, and numbingly depressing to endure. But long as it seems, the play is a hell of a lot shorter than the real thing.

Militant Language
Through March 21 at the
Bang and Clatter Theatre,
224 Euclid Avenue, 330-606-5317

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