nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 12, 2008
One man's villain is another man's hero: that's the notion that runs through almost all of the plays in TheDrillingCompaNY's latest compendium of new-ten-minute-variations-on-a-theme that is called, simply, Hero. What I left the evening with was a renewed commitment to remember this, and to be not just tolerant but embracing and compassionate when faced with someone whose idea of heroics didn't jive with mine.
The evening begins with a piece that frames the evening's argument, 9 Minutes 22 Seconds by Eric Henry Sanders. Its subject is Miles Davis, and its dialogue depicts him as variously a great jazz innovator to be admired, a proud black man in pre-civil-rights America to be respected or reviled, and a drug addict and criminal who served time in jail. There's that central idea alright: Davis was (and is) meat to some, poison to others. The play is shaped like one of Davis's jazz compositions, which is a very cool idea. Its words are performed in voiceover by a group of contemporary observers who riff on what Miles means to them in a way that's similar to the "conversation" Davis wanted his musicians to have in a recording session. Three actors behind a scrim stand in for the band itself. It doesn't entirely work, but it's a great way to draw us into the show.
Nine more plays follow. A couple look at that most traditional of heroes, the soldier. C. Denby Swanson's Potato Feast shows us a German POW during World War II working on a Maine potato farm; Sheri Graubert's Gerry, set during World War I, is about a British soldier who has inadvertently captured a German. Both examine the cockeyed ways that war turns concepts like "good" and "noble" on their heads. Gerry, in particular, is involving and thought-provoking, and features excellent direction by the author and fine performances by Daniel Smith as the "prisoner," Sam Underwood as his reluctant captor, and Michael Gnat as the British Sergeant.
Neil Olson's The Real Story, directed by Bradford Olson, features a group of civilians caught up in a war, in this case a civil war in some unnamed African country. Dan Teachout, a veteran of DrillingCompaNY's evenings, plays a cynical, seen-it-all journalist who has brought two colleagues into the very dangerous thick of the fight. Although the piece proceeds in a somewhat predictable manner, it is well-executed and proves to be both compelling and thoughtful.
Several of the evening's authors have looked closer to home for their heroes. Andrea Moon's solo play Woman Watching, performed by Veronica Cruz and directed by Teachout, offers us an unnamed woman musing about two of her personal heroines—her mother and her grandmother—while waiting out a storm (Katrina?) on a rooftop with unseen strangers. I thought this piece might have worked better if some other characters were present—the monologue format felt somehow forced in this circumstance—but the piece is nevertheless fascinating to hear. Sonny Got a Gun by Brian Christopher Williams is mostly a monologue for Tom Demenkoff (another frequent DrillingCompaNY actor); he plays a single father with two serious axes to grind. As he speaks, he cleans and prepares a rifle, ominously—again, the question of what makes someone a hero, and to whom, is explored. And Cross To Bear, by Colleen Cosgrove and directed by DrillingCompaNY artistic director Hamilton Clancy, is a very involving family story about two estranged sisters and the brother who brings them together when one of them needs a kidney transplant. The ending is easy to guess, but Cosgrove's writing is sharp and vivid and funny, and the performances of Brigitte Barnett, Iremimen Oniha, and Kwaku Driskell as the siblings are outstanding—their chemistry makes them feel like members of a single family.
Brian Dykstra's contribution is Just 4 1 Day, a cautionary futuristic tale about how an America dominated by right-wing fundamentalist Christians might deal with a certain kind of "hero"; it's interesting but a little hard to follow at first, with the author's hypotheses doled out only gradually.
My favorite piece in Hero is Justin Boyd's Eulogies, which offers three examples of what its title promises: one for a weatherman who died chasing a monster storm, one for a drug-addled rock & roll queen, and one for an Extreme Skiier who died while performing for TV cameras. This piece is very funny and very provocative. Who is to be admired here, and who is to be pitied? Under Stephen Bittrich's tight direction, Adam Fujita, Amber Voiles, and especially Karla Hendrick as the skiier's widow deliver expert performances.
Hero concludes with another light-hearted piece, Hero's Journey by David Miller. Dan Teachout and the company enact a somewhat satirical version of a traditional heroic odyssey, in which an ordinary man goes out to lunch and changes several lives, including his own. Gail Winar's direction encourages the actors to have fun with their roles, and they do. And so do we.