As one character tells us, commenting on the small nowhere town she lives in, "Any way you walk, you wind up in the cemetery." True in White Pines, N.H., true in Baghdad, true in life.
Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier
by William di Canzio is a sweet play about love and grief.
This new theater company, White Pines Productions, under Benjamin Lloyd's direction, is giving this new play a three-day showcase at the Playground at the Adrienne, having assembled a top-notch cast and a strong creative team to give the script an impressive first production.
The two central characters meet not-so-cute at the community college they both attend. Dan (Noah Drew) works in a warehouse, Sarah (Amanda Schoonover) is a waitress, and both are eager to get some credentials and get out of town. Dan falls in love at first sight; Sarah is suspicious and combative in the face of his eagerness. Just as love is triumphing, Dan's National Guard unit is called up for duty in Iraq, and he persuades Sarah to marry him before he leaves.
Dan's widowed mother, Debbie (Marcia Saunders), is the play's unnecessary role: Because she is still grieving over her husband, whose stint in Vietnam damaged him beyond recognition, she becomes the mouthpiece for Bush-bashing and rage against the warmongering system. Over and over she rants. Then, through the device of her letters to Dan, which she speaks aloud, she explains to us what we have just seen enacted. Any play in which the tagline is "Omit needless words" - a lesson Dan learns in his writing course - is leading with its chin, and Debbie's role, despite Saunders' moving portrayal, is mostly "needless words."
The most interesting character is an Iraqi prisoner (the very impressive J. Paul Nicholas, last seen locally in the Wilma's Scorched) who is a professor of classics. Far more sophisticated than anyone else in the play, with language that is far more complex and textured ("we are prone to histrionic grandiloquence," he remarks sardonically) than the flat, straightforward speech of the other characters, he teaches Dan, who is guarding him, Homer's Odyssey. The great epic about the hero's longing for home and the power of the father/son relationship resonates through the plot of the play we're watching - both in Baghdad and in New Hampshire.
Iraq is the place thought to be the location of Eden; the Greeks had a word for this, the professor tells Dan as bombs fall around them: irony. The oddest thing about this play is that all the characters are kind, decent people - even the Major (Mark Lazar) with his Pentagon-speak about "manhood" and "warriors" - and they all like one another. The only dramatic conflict is between these good people and the war.
The play's title comes from an old folk song, which is sung by Teri Rambo, accompanied by Christopher Colucci, during the scene changes.
Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier
Through tomorrow, by White Pines Productions at Playground at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. Tickets: $15. Information: www.johnnyhasgone.com.