nytheatre.com review by Paul Hufker
August 21, 2009
When one has an unquiet mind, sanity often slips away, and the whole world can quickly become a dark nightmare. If the noise grows loud enough, the mind becomes a vast echoing chamber of dizzying fabricated thought, where a thousand tiny distortions of reality overtake the senses and band together, laying before the eyes an inescapable and dangerous surreality that cripples the mind and descends the soul into madness. In Daily Sounds, by Jay Prasad, Sean, a soldier returning from the Iraq war, possesses many of these symptoms, and attributes them to P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Unspoken of and even denied for years, the United States military has a significant problem with this kind of disorder. Thousands of troops return each year from war with depression, thoughts of suicide, and even violent, unpredictable behavior. Sean is no exception.
Sean was returned home after a bomb exploded under his truck, giving him a head injury and killing all the men in his squad. This only adds the lingering effects of survivor's guilt to his mental burden. A friend offers him a job in Mexico smuggling guns into the U.S., but Sean's P.T.S.D. makes him undesirable (though for me it was unclear as to why) as a partner. He has no family to speak of, nor friends, and travels to New York City (it is also unclear why) and begins a bargained love affair with an older woman (who is, for some reason, Southern, a third unclear point). She offers him room and board, and in return he becomes her lover. The surreality thickens and deepens, and many dark twists and turns reveal the collapse of a man's grasp on his pain and himself. A therapist offers his help, but is at first ignored, and later violently confronted. Near the play's end, an intense encounter makes for one of Daily Sounds' finest moments, while the final scene itself was a complete mystery to me.
Daily Sounds employs a shorter scene structure (instead of the longer "act" structure)—eleven scenes to be exact—and unfortunately it's not served by this vignette-style. The problems the play addresses are complex, rich, and almost unsolvable. Longer, more involved conversations might illuminate some of the confusing circumstances of the characters, and may have given the viewer a chance to settle into the bizarre world Prasad has created.
Further, there are several mentions of Freud, and his psychoanalytic therapy. It seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with a Soldier returning home from war. The metaphor is enlarged significantly, coming to a head at the end of the play with a totally unexplained twist that involves the Oedipal complex, and psycho-sexual motifs that are not touched upon before, nor explained after.
Sean's older woman is May, who, let's face it, has some real troubles of her own. She is a habitual liar (or perhaps Sean is the liar?) who confesses to Sean that she euthanized her ailing sister at the sister's request. But, in New York City (and I think there are about 20 specific references made to the city) she is a complete fish-out-of-water as a character, even for New York. Her Blanche DuBois presence and metaphorical necessity baffled me. And while she is at times an interesting character, she remained a complete mystery the entire play.
There are a few moments of talking and listening. There are a few speeches that transcend the trite and offer terrifying visions of the insane, the hopelessly lost. One scene in particular is so good that one wishes the entire play had followed that track. But while the plight of soldiers returning from war, hurting and neglected, is a noble subject to pursue, and for all the potential of a piece like Daily Sounds, the play seemed to get in the way of itself, introducing themes and metaphors that, for the very real problem of P.T.S.D., were to me elusive and unnecessary. The actors were committed, but when the material becomes as confused about itself as the main character is about his life, an audience is quickly lost.