In their quest to appeal to young, TV-watching crowds who wouldn’t normally go to watch a play, the team behind This War is Live have forgotten a cardinal rule of acting —– they have to project. The majority of thesps in this play talk as if they’re on the tube, not in a fair-sized theatre.
Perhaps the multimedia aspects of the show have lulled them into a sense of false tranquility. The narrative is interspersed with news footage (real and fictional), still images, captions explaining where scenes are set, and interviews with some of the characters.
The interviews are conducted by Grant Blake, a documentary filmmaker who prizes truth-seeking over towing the line. He’s in Iraq when the U.S. military rolls into Baghdad, toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime and settling in for the long haul.
When a soldier pours his heart (and his brains) out on camera for Blake, the filmmaker is confronted by Major Brad, an old chum who represents the military liaison with the media. Blake’s about to be kicked out of the country when the enigmatic Mr. X gives him a second chance by offering to bankroll his investigations. As the mystery man explains, the authorities will try all kinds of dirty tricks to discredit Blake. Will the journalist be able to outfox the government, or will Big Brother bounce him back to the States with his tail between his legs?
Although the actors are quiet, they still tell this convoluted story with passion and sincerity. In the starring role of Blake, Patrick Ryan creates a totally original character who manages to be simultaneously obnoxious and likeable. He’s backed up by his videographer Davey (James Pillow), a genial mohawked mumbler who carries his camera around like a shopping basket (a real camera would be heavier and more cumbersome).
As Major Brad, Mark Gorman turns in one of the best performances of the show. Not only is he audible, but he is genuine as well. He makes us believe that Brad and Blake are friends who go way back, which really helps add authenticity to the play.
Other actors in the large cast have opportunities to shine: Bettina Beard as the sex-mad Kit Parker, an understated David Barr as the gay Private Freeman, Eric Collins as the gut-spilling soldier, and Mike Ferrer in multiple roles, some funny, some tragic.
In a show so reliant on video clips, any technical hitches are bound to slow the story down or confuse the audience. On the night we saw the play, several hiccups were apparent. Technical director Geoff Maas needs to iron out the creases to really let This War is Live hit its stride. In the meantime, the actors kept the action moving on a stage with no standing set; there is one video screen and a couple of canvas sheets to obscure silhouetted sex and violence from the audience.
This production doesn’t have the epic feel that playwright Jeff Douglas Messer surely hoped for. However, if director JC Conway can fix his glitches and get his actors to speak up, the audience will be able to hear some important conversations about Iraq, political spin, and the perils of imposing our brand of freedom on other cultures.
This War is Live • Piccolo Spoleto Theatre Series • $15-$20 • 2 hours • May 28 at 9:30 p.m., June 2 at 8:30 p.m., June 6 at 9 p.m., June 8 at 7:30 p.m. • Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen St. • (888) 374-2656 Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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