Soda Fountain

By Richard Lay
Directed by Gus Smythe
Sage Theatre Co.
Raw Space
529 W. 42nd St. (929-3423)
Equity showcase (closes April 25 - call for schedule)
Review by Julie Halpern

The Vietnam War claimed thousands of victims, many of whom were never near the battlefield. Repercussions are still felt today: Vietnam vets are often considered suspect; men who avoided the draft because of a real commitment to pacifism, or just an unwillingness to disrupt their plans, are lumped into the category of "draft-dodger." (Even our President is not immune to these accusations.) Richard Lay's new play Soda Fountain, set in 1969, reveals how these choices changed the lives of three friends in rural Oklahoma.

Johnny (James Rutigliano) has chosen to fight in Vietnam and has returned to his hometown a hero, a recipient of the Medal of Honor. His girl friend Sally (Veronica Bero) has waited three years for his return, hoping to marry him. Johnny's best friend Danny (Jerry Prince Solomon) has become a pacifist and has not served, but lately has questioned the wisdom of his decision. Although Johnny is now a local celebrity, he feels like a fraud for having survived when so many of his comrades were killed. His feelings of inadequacy are exacerbated by a meddling journalist, Sam Porterhouse (William Greville), who accuses him of acting improperly during an accident a few years back.

During Johnny's absence, Danny has fallen in love with Sally, and although she doesn't return his love, they have both succumbed to alcoholism. Despite Sally's efforts to rekindle the passion of their youth, Johnny realizes that he can never readjust to his old life and ultimately decides to return to Vietnam.

Soda Fountain sensitively explores this love triangle, and Lay provides the characters with detailed and insightful speeches that enhance our understanding of their backgrounds and how the war has changed their lives. Director Gus Smythe gave careful attention to every nuance in Lay's play, and created an environment for his cast's talents to soar.

Veronica Bero gave a touching performance as the unbelievably goodhearted Sally, who operates the local soda fountain and has put her life on hold waiting for Johnny. James Rutigliano's Johnny was an evocative blend of taut nervous energy and sexuality smoldering just beneath the surface. Jerry Prince Solomon gave a powerful performance as the pathetic, alcoholic Danny, whose idealism has deteriorated into self-hatred.

Jonathan Freedman was heart-breaking as Sally's retarded younger brother Froggy, who seems better adjusted in his world than the other characters, despite the abuse heaped upon him. William Greville's fine acting choices balanced the charm and real evil of Sam Porterhouse, the self-serving newspaper man. Vonder Gray was wonderful in the complicated role of Sally's mother Hilda, who must cope with her husband's and son's deaths and Sally's alcoholism, as well as Sam Porterhouse's advances.

Although no one was credited with costume design for the show, everyone looked appropriate in the simple costumes. Ms. Bero's makeup and hair were perfect for the period, and Charlotte Newman's simple sets worked well with Kane Tung's lighting.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern