nytheatre.com review by Kimberly 'Sparkle' Stewart
June 4, 2011
On Saturday night, I witnessed one of the rare gifts that theatre bestows upon us from time to time—a powerful and passionately produced piece, raising important questions about the world we live in today. That piece is Goliath, produced by Poetic Theater Productions for the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.
Goliath is a one act choreopoem relentlessly written by Takeo Rivera. It is the story of a young soldier, David, who heads off to the Iraq war to become the man others expect him to be, and loses the man who he wants to become in the process. It is driven by the want to understand why.
Described in the program as a “writer, scholar, and activist,” Rivera has written a poem/play that reveals an intellect wrestling with the actions and morality of war and finding no simple solutions. It is structured as a series of vignettes detailing David’s choice to go to war as it is understood by those closest to him. In the way of poetry, the feelings come fast and descriptively, allowing a wide range of characters’ history—emotional and temporal—to be shared. Rivera uses elements of slam poetry in a powerful way, using the excitement and aggression of that form superbly to invoke specific moments of rage and frustration. The action is tightly structured. It is a shared revelation, with David making discoveries along with the audience. Rivera’s skills as a poet allow the beauty of a mother’s love and the shallowness of teenage feeling to co-exist and be given their due without diminishing either experience. Both are equal and both share a different facet of the person David is. By the time Rivera reveals what kind of boy-man the audience has invested in, he has made the questions so much more powerful and significant. This is a challenging piece with no easy answers. The writer’s passion toward these causes infuses the entire play with an importance. There is something here that concerns the audience and something it needs to grapple with.
Alex Mallory’s direction is deft. Each actor is a character in David’s life, but also a member of a sort of Greek chorus commenting on the world that surrounds him and his choices. Her staging allows the actors to slip seamlessly among these roles and it unobtrusively supports and defines the poetry that it is rooted in. She creates evocative movement that often suggests the realism of war photojournalism in a couple of moments, and then the youthful tableau of a house party with an ease and grace that orients the audience to the map of this quick moving piece. There is a polish to the choices and a meaning to her arrangement of the actors upon the stage that slowly reveals itself as the action proceeds. If I found one note false, it is in the choice to have an actress at a crucial moment freeze while the action around her is described. I felt the moment would have been more powerful with some physicalization of the pain and suffering she experienced.
This is truly a talented ensemble cast, led by M. Scott Frank as David. His choices convey an unsure tenderness and tough-guy mentality that fuel his frustration. As his anti-war activist sister Sandy, Samantha Cooper is a tremendous joy to watch, with unexpected complexity and compassion for a soldier in a war she hates and a brother she is losing. Other strong moments include Dontonio Demarco as a U.S-crazed drill sergeant and Natalia Duong as his high school sweetheart who regrets giving up a 4-year college for marriage to an active duty soldier.
The play is opened with a poem from the Warrior Writers Project. This added an additional measure of truth. The play does not quite capture that sense of a soldier day-to-day in Iraq, but this poem, written by a soldier who served there, was the perfect complement.
This short one act—around 45 minutes—was well worth the trip to see it. I have found myself turning the issues raised by the play over and over in my head. It packs a powerful punch. The story of this wounded warrior haunts me.