nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
July 14, 2008
Set in the Vietnam War in 1968, Penang tells the story of an unexpected friendship. The core of the story centers around two soldiers, Lt. Tim Riordan and Capt. G. Richard (Luke) Deluca, who meet and become friends while on R&R in Malaysia. This part of the story is told in flashback by Riordan, who is now in the hospital after attempting suicide on the day he was slated to go home. His doctor uses various methods to get to the root of the issue that triggered his attempt to take his own life, and as the doctor delves into his mind we see the agony that the war has caused him and those around him.
Playwright James Larocca structures his story very nicely—it hops around in time and neatly unfolds before us. His characters are well drawn but they could stand a little more development. The relationship between the two soldiers builds to a moment that doesn't feel earned and so when this moment occurs it doesn't make much sense. Still, Larocca says some poignant things about the effects of war on our soldiers and while he offers nothing new here, they do need to be said.
Director Donya Washington is clear and consistent in her dramatic staging. However, there are several moments that beg for a rise in tension and emotion but Washington does not push her cast hard enough to hit these moments. There are some moments that we see that don't seem necessary while others are left out. For example, of the two sex scenes in the play, we see the much less important one.
The cast has its ups and downs. The best performance comes from Brett Davidson who plays Riordan with a very solid commitment to his character. Peter Sabri is completely natural and at ease as the endearing and funny Deluca. However, it is Ben Hersey who steals the night as Jimmy Chen, the gregarious Malaysian taxicab driver they befriend.
Penang reminds us that we are currently creating yet another generation of young men who have forged the powerful bonds of war, and even though this bond is strong it is made under circumstances that no one should have to live through.