An Improvised Explosive Device: an MTV war story
nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
August 21, 2011
An Improvised Explosive Device is kind of like a banquet in Vegas—very big, full of all sorts of rich things, but almost a little too much, with one or two dishes that could have been left out.
The story concerns a pair of soldiers—Gillham (Grant Boyd) and Farmer (Neil D’Astolfo)—who enlisted together as teens, served in the same unit, and then got sent home early when Gillham was injured at the front. They haven’t been discharged, though: they’re part of a recruitment tour led by a career sergeant (Joie Bauer) who exhorts them both to come up with a good sales pitch to encourage other young men and women to enlist as well. And that’s not all—inexplicably, their recruitment tour is being sponsored by MTV, who’s sending former Real World housemate Ronnie (Stephanie Brait) along to speak about another opportunity.
The premise is somewhat odd, but the complex characters created by writer Daniella Shoshan soon override that. It’s apparent from the first scene that Gillham and Farmer have some unfinished business from the front, and they spend most of the play avoiding each other; but the painful conversation they have at the play’s end concerns not just Gillham’s injury, but a far deeper and more complicated grudge they’ve shared. Ronnie is also complex—Brait is spot-on perfect as a typical MTV ditsy party girl in her first scene, but soon reveals the stew of emotions Ronnie is wallowing in as she struggles to sort out just who she is and who she wants to be. However, one of the people Ronnie wants to “be” is Chase Carpenter (Caris Vujec), the brusque television reporter who begins following the tour after Ronnie tips her off to the tension between Gillham and Farmer, and in her efforts to impress Carpenter, Ronnie ends up pushing them both toward a crisis and betraying herself.
One major drawback, though, is the length. The play is two hours long—and there is no intermission. There’s a good deal more going on in this work—subplots concerning Carpenter and the sergeant, a budding romance between Ronnie and Gillham, Farmer’s frustration at having to return to the home front—but having to take it all in without a break was overwhelming, and I got somewhat lost towards the end. Carpenter’s story suffers the most—she and Farmer have an uncomfortable confrontation towards the end, when she seeks a comment from him for one of her stories, but I was struggling a little too much to keep up with the story they were telling (and also was distracted by audience members making furtive desperate trips to the rest rooms).
Shoshan makes some wonderful statements about forging one’s identity in the course of this play, and the cast is uniformly excellent—but like our troops, just be ready for a long tour of duty.