Thursday, January 8, 2009

Silent Heroes - January 8, 2009

I am not a fan of military drama, just not my thing. But the Roundtable Ensemble does great work and I always like to catch their yearly offering, this year was no different despite the fact that the subject matter isn't my favorite. Because they are a non-profit organization they are only able to mount one full production a year - but what a production Silent Heroes is.

This is the New York priemere of Silent Heroes and it is a true ensemble piece with six wonderful actresses portraying fully realized individuals who are as real and honestly written as I've seen. Playwright Linda Escalera Baggs has done a masterful job of letting us get to know, intimately but without overt sentimentality, the inner workings of military wives.

The year is 1975 and six Marine aviator's wives are gathered after a one of their husbands jet fighters have crashed. Because of radio silence no one knows which of the six has been lost and the women wait as one by one five of their husbands return to the base.

As they wait we learn how they deal with the constant knowledge that every day might be the day they lose their husbands. We learn how they maintain their patriotism and composure, how they raise their children, deal with racism, sexism, domestic abuse, infidelity and a country who is not always as steadfastly pro-military as they, because of their choices, must be.

The writing here is precise and each character well-drawn giving the actors a jumping off point that can only cause them to rise to the ocassion. And they do. Dionne Audain, Julie Jesneck, Kelly Ann Moore, Sarah Saunders, Rosalie Tenseth and Lisa Velten Smith each embody their characters so fully and infuse them with such humanity, realism and humor that you sit back afterwards and say "yes, that is what actors are meant to do".

Adding to the ease with which we can suspend our disbelief are the era-perfect costumes - down to nail polish shades straight out of the '70s - by Kevin Hucke and Nick Francone's appropriately understated and vaguely depressing waiting room set that looks like it might have been lifted right out of a civic building circa '70s - right down to the coffee cups (the same ones my own mother had in the '70s).

Rosemary Andress has kept her characters clearly defined and done a beautiful job creating the feeling that we are being allowed to peek into the private lives of people we would otherwise never know except by their public personas. She makes clever use of an intimate setting and keeps the action moving at a perfect pace.

The beauty of this piece is how we are invited into their lives which despite the trappings of the military and on-base life are not so very unlike our own. Were all military dramas as entrenched in humanity as this one is, I would have become a fan of the genre long ago.

Silent Heroes
Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios
244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor
January 8th - January 24th
wed, Thurs, Fri & Sat @ 8PM
Sat & Sun @ 3PM
Running time: 90 (fast moving) minutes with no intermission
Tickets or call Brown Paper Tickets @ 800.838.3006

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