Thursday, November 17, 2005

Review: Play examines war’s effect on many fronts

By Sarah Young
Photo by Courtney Kuhlen

In a collaboration of English Alternative Theatre and University Theatre, “An Army of One” opened in the William Inge Memorial Theatre this week. Written by recent KU graduate Zacory Boatright and directed by Paul Hough, the play examines the effect of post traumatic stress disorder on Josh Harrison, who has returned from the Iraq War.

Framed by the tattered and now infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner, the set represents Josh’s past and present: his home, the battlefield and the office where he interviews for a job. His life collides with itself as he slips back and forth through the trauma of the war, the 9-11 attacks and his father’s death during the first Gulf War. Each trauma splits his existence, changing forever the man or boy he has been. However, his ghosts remain to taunt his beleaguered mind.

Josh’s mom, played by Rachael Perry, comforts 8-year-old Josh, played by Kris Hilding, as he reads a letter from his father, who is overseas serving in the military. The play, which is the first co-produced by English Alternative Theatre and University Theatre, opened Monday at the William Inge Memorial Theatre.

Boatright creates one man who is three characters played by three different actors: “Josh Now” (Joe Carey), who has returned from Iraq a fractured man; “Young Josh” (Kris Hilding), who, at 8 years old, must comprehend his father’s loss; and “Middle Josh” (Dylan Hilpman), whose anger after the 9-11 attacks compels him to enlist at age 18. Because all three personalities exist in Josh’s mind, all three actors are on stage most of the time, often speaking overlapping dialogue.

A potential pitfall in Boatright’s characterization is for the fragmented bits of Josh to become one-dimensional, functioning too much to fulfill a certain type. However, each actor has focused carefully on the element that defines each version of Josh. Hilpman’s Josh is idealistic but also angry and fiercely determined to live up to his image of his father as hero. Carey’s Josh is confused, afraid of himself and what he has done, still harboring the anger that kept him alive only to destroy him from within. Hilding’s Josh is a typical boy of 8, determined to make his father proud but shocked into self-doubt when his father fails to return home.

Josh’s Mom (Rachael Perry), suffering her own trauma over her husband’s death, attempts to erase the memory of Josh’s father from his life. His girlfriend, Katie (Candice Bondank), angry at Josh for enlisting but also loyal, puts her own life on hold awaiting his return. The Interviewer (Ryan Klamen), a Vietnam vet, who occasionally morphs into Josh’s recruiter, drill sergeant or commanding officer, functions as a guide. Forcing Josh to relive the past, he helps Josh deal with his anger and fear.

Despite strong performances by all three actors, these characters almost never become more than the “mother,” the “girlfriend” and the “vet.” This effect makes sense, since the audience really never understands them from an objective perspective. They are projected into and from the past by Josh’s mind.

As the Josh characters sit together in the final scene, pondering their collective loss of innocence, we see that all of them — or rather, one of them — must go on, living with himself or perishing in the attempt.

As an entry in the 2006 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, “An Army of One” reveals the talent and potential of its writer and all its performers

Original Story Located Here

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