Won and Lost
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 3, 2009
Won and Lost is a double-bill of short plays about men returned home from war. It's potent and though-provoking; and it serves as a formidable debut for the brand new Apple Core Theater Company.
The first piece on the program is The Return of Odysseus, a new 20-minute play by Steven Gridley. It takes place on a farm in Idaho in 1958. Abbott, a spiky young newspaper reporter (played by Chandler Wild), has learned that Forrest, a recalcitrant farmer, was a POW in Japan during World War II. Sensing a human interest story, Abbott has come to Forrest's farm to interview him. He quickly discovers that the last thing Forrest wants is to talk about his experiences during the war.
Gridley surprises us in the play at least twice: First, he gives us a genuinely reluctant war "hero" in Forrest—a man who does not want to revisit his past, even though it means not playing by the "rules" of a budding media-drenched culture. And second, he fills the bulk of this compact play with a long monologue for Forrest in which he does remember his incarceration in the POW camp. Are we eavesdropping on his private thoughts, or does he finally decide to tell Abbott what he wants to know? Gridley leaves this information for us to decide for ourselves.
The monologue, performed here with gravitas by Jeff Auer, is a beautifully evocative speech, exploring fundamental concepts that play into the notion of war, such as pride, honor, and courage. Even a war that seemed to make a lot of sense on its surface may somehow have been ultimately purposeless to one who was there.
Following Gridley's play is James McLure's Pvt. Wars, which takes place in a V.A. hospital in 1978. Here we meet three men returned from Vietnam: Gately, Silvio, and Natwick. Gately is patiently and slowly trying to repair a radio, Silvio is a hyperactive troublemaker who loves to flash the nurses, and Natwick is an intellectual snob who likes to read. The three alternately trade banter and provocation with one another; their relationship feels like a three-way version of the central one in Waiting for Godot. And indeed, these three are waiting, though it's not absolutely clear for what—they say from time to time that they can leave the hospital anytime they want, but no one seems ready to declare himself cured.
The dialogue is wickedly funny and frequently pretty raw; but McLure gives all three of his characters integrity and heart, and there are moments when they speak with an unfettered honesty that kind of blows us away. This production features three fine actors—Ryan Stadler is Natwick, Zach Lombardo is Silvio, and Jason Griffith is Gately. Griffith is particularly affecting here, as a man who has been through stuff that's so bad that, even though he never talks about it, it's clear that it keeps him doggedly working at his table trying to fix a radio that seems determined to stay broken.
Both of the pieces in Won and Lost feature solid direction by Walter J. Hoffman. Production values are economical and generally effective.
The pairing of these two plays proves interesting and fortuitous. The high level of work on display here portends great things for Apple Core Theater Company.