A Show of Force
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 13, 2006
One of the first things that the creator/performer of A Show of Force, Donnie Mather, says to us is "I have to have time to think when someone asks me a searching question." Mather then proceeds to bombard us with a series of searching questions and poignant observations about the true nature of war. It is ironic that Mather gives us little time to ponder these observations, but this did not detract from experience. A Show of Force is a powerful and very creatively conceived show.
The show opens with Mather lying on the floor in his underwear. He rises, pulls off the piece of tape that's covering his mouth, places it on a pillar that has many other pieces of tape on it and begins to speak. (He eventually puts his clothes on, too.) For the next hour or so, Mather explores the subject of war in depth, using quotes from literature and other sources, everything from Faulkner to Gandhi, and he uses them like a sharp stick. The piece combines text and movement so creatively that I couldn't that my eyes or ears off it even for a second.
What I liked best about this show is that Mather is truly exploring his theme with us, bringing up powerful points as to why war is totally wrong only to contradict himself minutes later. He doesn't just preach to us about the ills of war; he examines many different opinions. That to me is a sign of a show that deserves a lot of attention. Also, the show seems to be extremely well researched. It is quite evident that Mather took his time with this one and made sure that he had it right. He mixes in some funny moments, but overall the piece is presented very dramatically. Possibly too dramatically: I felt that had Mather saved the high drama for very specific moments, they would have been that much more powerful and the remaining moments could have been played with a whole gamut of other emotions such as curiosity or matter-of-factness.
Director Leon Ingulsrud does an absolutely brilliant job. This is a one-man show, so there's not a whole lot to look at, but Ingulsrud leads our eyes all over the stage and at many different depths and levels. It is utterly captivating. Ingulsrud's work is highlighted by Brian Scott's beautiful light design. The sound design, courtesy of Darron L. West and Emily Wright, is also noteworthy. All the production elements of this production are well thought-out and help to raise the show to a higher level.
In the end, Mather doesn't try to answer the questions he raises; perhaps that's why he doesn't bother to let us absorb the questions, instead leaving us to ponder them as we make our way home, turn on the TV and see the highlights of real wars on the screen. The state of war may or may not be the natural state of man but I for one feel that if we have more folks out there like Mather producing pointed fringe theatre such as A Show of Force, there's a chance we may find the answer together.