nytheatre.com review by Allison Taylor
February 12, 2008
When Chief Diaz and Chief Pusser pick up their two new Navy recruits in Anchors, they talk like camp counselors welcoming the two twentysomethings for a fun-filled vacation. "Are you kids hungry?" one asks cheerfully, offering them Mickey D's, while the other makes sure they have enough leg room in the back of the car. But as soon as the car turns onto the Navy training site, the camp counselor personas vanish, and the chiefs unleash an outpouring of witty invectives in ear-splitting volumes. These two recruits are now official Property of the U.S. Navy. Such is the charming humor of this new play by Tony Zertuche, now running at Theatre Row. It's unfortunate that the cute comedic elements of Anchors seem to get swept away by a messy, underdeveloped story.
Set in 1989, the play centers on a young singer-songwriter. Unsure of what to do with his life, Michael Goliad signs up for a two-year tour in the U.S. Navy. But soon he discovers that he doesn't really want to be there, particularly because of the systematic abuse he endures from his cleverly nasty boot camp chiefs. After a few creative attempts to get released from duty, he resigns himself to the two years ahead, with encouragement from another new recruit, Geraldine "Jerry" Lewis. After training, Goliad ends up stationed in the Philippines, where he meets the hard-partying officer, Schotz. Taking Goliad under his wing, Schotz shows him the town bars where the sailors can purchase the time of a "bar girl" (not a prostitute). Although the "bar girls" tempt him, Goliad falls in love with a beautiful Philippine woman, Grace. But when their two-year anniversary and the end of his enlistment approach, Goliad must decide what to do with his life.
For anyone who has ever seen Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues, or even the Bill Murray movie Stripes, the comedy concerning the transition from civilian existence to military life might seem a little familiar. But the comedic bits are familiar for a reason (they work), and as Goliad, Renaldy Smith endows the character with just the right balance of cockiness and boyish charisma to make his struggles fun to watch. As Goliad's buddy Lewis, Raushanah Simmons provides a relaxed, almost motherly presence, as she patiently begs Goliad to stay out of trouble. And as Chief Pusser and Chief Diaz respectively, Helen Coxe and Andrew Eisenman deliver deadpan with expertise. When Goliad claims to be gay, hoping to be discharged, the chiefs—in so many words—demand him to prove it. Under the direction of Eliza Beckwith, Zertuche's funny scene becomes a Comedy 101 lesson, with the poker-faced expressions of Coxe and Eisenman spurring on Smith's frantic back peddling.
However, Zertuche is wise to realize that a story cannot sustain on gags alone. And at its heart, Anchors feels less like a comedy poking fun at the Navy and more like an in-depth character examination. But despite the best efforts of Smith, Goliad lacks the three-dimensionality to make his story compelling. For instance, even though it's a large part of his journey, Goliad's romantic relationship with Grace—who is played with equal parts giggly bashfulness and stern urgency by Banaue Miclat—is never really fleshed out. We're told they're in love, but we never really see why (even Goliad's physical attraction to her comes into question in a very strange plot twist). Instead of developing Goliad's journey more thoroughly, Zertuche fleetingly focuses the dialogue on a variety of themes: race relations in America, what Filipinos think of Americans, the differences between the two countries' cultures, the politics of the Gulf War, and others. With the story in need of streamlining, Beckwith cannot keep the tone between the two acts (first heavily comedic, then heavily dramatic) from seeming inconsistent, nor the scene transitions from feeling herky-jerky. At the end of the day, Anchors seems to reach in too many directions for its 90-minute format.