nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 12, 2006
Plays that confront serious issues with clarity and compassion are all too rare these days; probably, they always were. Corps Values, the FringeNYC entry by the fine young playwright Brendon Bates, is such a play; in its clash of father and son over fundamental values, it echoes the classic works of Arthur Miller, and it wouldn't surprise me if a savvy theatre company or TV/film producer jumped right on this solid, provocative script and took it to the next level, and to the broader audience it deserves.
Corps Values takes place in November 2004, in the western Pennsylvania home of Wade Taylor. Wade was a Marine lieutenant who served valiantly in Vietnam, where one of his missions was to blow up a bridge that was sheltering four of his comrades-in-arms; he chose duty over mercy and sacrificed their lives for his country's cause. Three decades later, Wade's son Casey is serving in Iraq, also with the USMC, where he has just seen brutal action in Fallujah. When Casey is granted some leave to attend his mother's funeral—for she has just been killed, in a car accident—he makes the startling pronouncement that he is not returning to battle. He is going AWOL, he tells his father, and he's going to appear at an anti-war rally in Washington, DC, so that people will know why; he'd rather serve time in the federal penetitary than be part of a war he no longer believes in or understands.
At the heart of Corps Values is a face-off between Wade and Casey, two stubborn, bitter men who try hard to make each other understand each other's point of view. It's a battle of ideals, but it's also deeply personal: the man Casey was before Iraq and the man he has become since are both firmly entrenched in the shadow and legacy of the man Wade turned into after his own war experiences. Bates is canny in letting us hear all the sides of a complicated argument that involves notions of patriotism, loyalty, service, and fatherhood —all the elements of that abstract and ultimately paltry idea of "being a man." He doesn't judge his protagaonists, but rather lets us hear them, vigorously and insightfully, as we try to make sense of an American Dream that may have gone badly awry.
Wrapped around the father/son debate is a mystery story, as Wade's one-time buddy, now a bigwig in the USMC, tries to figure out what happened to Casey and to the recruiting officer who went to Wade's house to counsel him, as well as two other officers who have since gone missing.
Bates has written a taut, exciting drama that nicely balances the mundane and everyday with vivid depictions of the horrors of battle and equally forceful statements pro and con the need for war. Director Susan W. Lovell has cast the piece sharply, with particularly outstanding performances delivered by Tom Steschulte as Wade, Joe Curnutte as Casey, and Aaron Mathias as Captain Samko, the recruiting officer who has disappeared. Corps Values is vibrant and necessary theatre, and should be essential Fringe-going for those who care about serious drama.