Billed as a new play "about American women who participated in the Vietnam War as nurses, journalists and Red Cross volunteers," Stacey Engels's drama The Ballad of Round Eyes is invigorating and imaginative. Echoing the sentiments of M*A*S*H, Hair, and other anti-war period pieces, this new work focuses on the female fighters, backed by competent men who support their causes and applaud their efforts.
The action takes place around the Christmas season at the end of 1967. Zoe serves as a nurse in an army hospital located within Vietnam's Central Highlands. She encounters Ruth, a dissatisfied photojournalist stuck with the behind-the-scenes assignment. Conflicts and confrontations ensue, until an unexpected reunion leads to confusion and anger, leaving the weeks following the holidays enveloped in a somber mood. Everything culminates in the arrival of the Tet offensive, which sheds new light on the reality of America's involvement in the war.
Engels's stark script got the full theatrical treatment by director Krista Smith, who cleverly interwove scenes with stunning stage pictures and terrific transitions. Most indelible was the mood which permeated the evening, coloring even the lighter moments between the recruits. The ensemble of young actors not only deserved kudos for capturing the enthusiasm and disillusionment of their characters, but were also credited with making collaborative contributions to the play. The cast included Katie Corrado, Angela DeMateo, Gabriel Fazio, Salome M. Krell, Christopher Benson Reed, and Michael Quattrone.
Lighting designer Conor McGibboney added some evocative touches, including a string of Christmas lights that symbolized the enduring hope of the women and men and the simple means they used to keep their spirits buoyed. Nishi Badhwar kept the raw rhythms going with offstage percussion.
Visible Theatre made an impressive debut with this production. Here's hoping the group continues its mission with equally moving works.
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Copyright 2004 Elias Stimac