nytheatre.com review by Liz Kimberlin
In Fallen Patriots, the audience becomes an
uneasy companion to three very different African American men thrust
into three very different wars. The story is told in triplet scenes with
period background music and slide show images from each era. The
characters are: 1) Horace, a runaway slave in 1864 who winds up as a
Union soldier fighting on the very same plantation he escaped from; 2)
talkaholic Leonard, a schoolteacher who proudly enlists for duty in
World War II in 1943; and 3) Walter, a young man being dragged kicking
and screaming to 1969 Vietnam—and spewing obscenities every step of the
August 15, 2003
All three men are indelibly portrayed by Darian Dauchan, who also wrote the play. The actor Dauchan is quite a charismatic presence: tall, lanky, agile, with limbs that seem to know how to be everywhere and nowhere at once. He is particularly riveting and heart-wrenching as the geeky, but articulate Leonard, who, after witnessing firsthand the aftermath horrors of the Nazi death camps, finds his faith and his sanity slipping out of his grasp. Dauchan is equally adept at playing the soldier who unexpectedly reclaims his humanity amidst gruesome violence and hatred, as well as the soldier who chillingly transforms into a bloodthirsty ghoul bragging over his number of kills (including children) on the frontline. In most scenes, Dauchan talks directly to the audience. The Independent is a very small theatre with approximately 40 seats. Dauchan is able to briefly meet every eye in attendance to very unnerving effect.
There is much about this production to compliment. Under Malcolm I. Barrett’s admirable direction, the tiny stage and minimal set pieces are believably transformed into three worlds. The constant clicking of the slide projector is as much a part of the play’s atmosphere as the background sound of the hollow drip-drip-drip at Leonard’s French MASH unit. The slide images are interchangeably joyous, despicable, funny, harrowing.
Only two real criticisms. The quality of Dauchan’s playwriting is, in general, excellent, and he does a beautiful job of blending history and fiction. But Fallen Patriots doesn’t really cover new territory or address new issues. At an hour-forty minutes running time (including a welcome ten-minute intermission) the play starts to lose steam towards the end. And as it also then starts to become more of a diatribe than a play, it begins to lose some of its considerable bite.
That aside, Fallen Patriots is an experience in theatre you will not forget any time soon.