Combat ready

A Soldier’s Death

By Tom O’Neil
Directed by Tony Pennino
Thirteenth Street Repertory
50 West 13th St. (675-6677)
Non-union production (closes Jan. 11)
Review by Arlene McKanic

The soldier is dead. He sprawls on his back, bloodied, one leg blown off, utterly and tragically still. Requiem music plays. Suddenly, he jerks awake. Or is he awake?

The soldier, Adam (Kyle Pierson) chides himself for falling asleep and orders himself to stay awake. Soon, he hears his mother calling him to breakfast, then his organization-man father (Gavin Smith), and his bratty younger sister Jane (Sarah Wolfman-Robichaud). But Adam can’t come downstairs -- he's missing a leg, and his foot is still in his boot. When his family comes "upstairs" to fetch him, they react at first as if he’s just a teenaged boy in a room that’s a bit messier than usual, not a dead soldier laid out on Tom O’Neil’s version of Hamburger Hill. His sweet-natured Mom (Deirdre Schweisow) even lays out a picnic around him. Soon the audience starts to wonder if he’s dreaming them or if they’re dreaming him. Later, two soldiers, Rawlins and Jack (Nixon Cesar and Peter Stewart) come up the hill to recover his body. After a while, Jack, a soldier whose cynicism is a defense against the horror around him, falls asleep, and Rawlins contemplates the madness and the cold quirkiness of fate -- he, not Adam, was supposed to be on point that day. Suddenly, startlingly, Adam wakes up again, and Jane returns and starts badgering Rawlins. What’s going on?

The action took place on an almost entirely bare stage, and the lighting was mostly low-key and undramatic, save the slow fade to black during the play’s devastating last moment. Tony Pennino’s direction was nearly spartan, which mirrors the dialect’s restraint; there were no screaming, wailing, fistfights, or any sort of emotional or physical violence, unless you count Wolfmann-Robichaud’s harmless poking, prodding, smacking, and normal teenaged volatility ("I hate you!" is her favorite line). Jane’s annoying, but that’s all she is; the worst thing she can inflict on her brother is the revelation that she’s lost her virginity. In the end the realization of her loss shuts her mouth and humbles her. The grief of the other characters was expressed in small, memorable ways: by Smith’s trembling chin and tear-filled eyes as he gave his son a final salute; Schweisow’s sudden obsession with lost dinnerware; the consternation in Cesar’s eyes as he realized that something wasn't right if he wass talking to a dead man and a dead man’s sister, who was supposed to be on the other side of the earth. As Adam, Pierson portrayed the confusion that is said to afflict those who meet a violent and unexpected death; and then, as the reality of his death sank in, he gained wisdom and perspective. "It doesn’t matter," he says to the guilt-stricken Rawlins. Also, Pierson, who was excellent as Neal Cassady in O’Neil’s Jack Kerouac: Last Call earlier this year, is a man possessed of all of his appendages. That he spends over an hour covered with gore and with one leg tucked up beneath him is remarkable in itself; by the time the play ended he must have like his leg had been blown off for real.

While A Soldier’s Death closes on January 11, the cast changes on November 23.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Arlene McKanic