Monday, March 17, 2014

"Hero Worship" by Joe Calarco presented in Arlington VA by Signature in the Schools

This past St. Patrick's Day weekend, despite the snow, has been a kind of "New York at Washington" for me.   I feel like I was in the Big Apple with stuff right at home.

Back when I worked as a civilian for the Navy department at the Washington Navy Yard back in 1971, a particular coworker said, “God is my only hero.”  (He was also known for his disdain of “male sex hormones in the blood stream and his tendency to pout if he lost a skittles chess game to me.)  I was known for my upward affiliation, a tendency to hang around the “super ocelots” of the world, whom some could say have clay feet.  My idea of war and military service, despite my own two years in the Army 1968-1970 where my education kept me safely stateside, was that combat involved men making sacrifices.  The worst thing might not be death, but coming home disfigured and maimed, and expecting a spouse to love me intimately anyway.
The new play “Hero Worship” by Joe Calarco, touches on that idea, but starts with the more publicly obvious and formerly acceptable notion of the war hero, that military service can give someone a chance to come home a hero.

The 70-minute play was put on at the Signature Theater in Arlington VA tonight in a free performance (donations requested) by the Signature in the Schools project, which works with Arlington Public Schools. 
The play has an interesting structure, for crossing time, and it uses this structure to cover some ideas that have gotten a lot of attention in my own writings: my own “Do Ask, Do Tell” books (including the latest one, check Amazon) and even a sprawling unpublished novel called “The Proles” that I penned in 1969 while in the Army.  One chapter of that novel is reproduced in my most recent book and I’ll be covering that old manuscript in great detail on another blog soon.  But it was certainly interesting to me how the playwright found a plot that could cover some of this material in little more than an hour.
As the play opens, some soldiers are preparing mentally for D-Day in June 1944.  There’s a great optimism that they will be part of history and a great cause.  A black soldier even talks about the separate black Army as if that was OK, given the bigger stakes caused by Nazi Germany.

The middle section of the play has a few women working on a memorial on the Mall in Washington to honor soldiers who fell in Iraq and Afghanistan, believing that the new war was a necessary response to 9/11.  Characters from many previous US wars appear, going back to the War Between the States, but actually starting out with the Korean War, “the forgotten war”.  (I have a particular recollection there.  In the summer of 1950, as a boy I was sitting on the porch of my grandmother’s Kipton, Ohio home when my mothers showed me a Cleveland newspaper and said, “there’s war in Korea.  As kids, we would pound out dissonances on bass notes on the upright piano in the den imitating war, but I would asked why men were forced to go to war and sacrifice parts of themselves.)  It seems that the characters are ghosts, so to speak, or men (and one woman who pretended to be a man to volunteer) simply crossing a wormhole in space-time to come back again (that gets closer to a concept in “The Proles”). In the final section the play returns to D-Day and the men now face the real horrors of battle, including not only deaths but maimings and amputations. 
The cast comes from three Arlington high schools (Wakefield, Washington-Lee, HB-Woodlawn).  Toward the end of the middle section, Raymond (Zak Gordon) tells of an attempted suicide, and then is called a yellow coward by his commanding officer and sent back to battle.   This sort of thing came up during my own Army Basic at Fort Jackson, SC, especially the time in Special Training Company.
Other cast include Sean Balick, Ariel Cadby-Spicer, Max Carruth, Karl Green, Alician Hartz, Usman Ishaq, Brandi Moore, Nancy Robinette, William Westray IV. David Zobell is the director.  The Signature program gives high school students very considerable immersion in theater.

There was a Q-A afterward.  I asked about the relation to the attitudes about the draft during Vietnam, and another woman in the audience asked how the crew felt about proposals to reinstitute the draft by some people. Charles Moskos, recall, had argued for resuming the draft after 9-11 and then dropped his support for the restrictions on gays in the military under “don’t ask, don’t tell”. It's important to remember that the controversy over the draft in the 1960s was exacerbated by several factors:  it was male-only (ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1981), there were extensive education deferments until 1969 (when a lottery was introduced), and in practice education could often keep you out of combat;  and at one time there had been a marriage and fatherhood deferment, which ended around 1964.  

The Signature Site for the performance is here. The Signature Max stage was arranged in a conventional format.  But the theater presents some plays in arena layout.  I don't know of any other major theater than can switch formats this way.

The playwright has his own site here, and curiously it does not yet list this play.

There were posters for significant upcoming productions.  One is the musical by Stephen Sondheim, “Sunday in the Park with George” (1984), which I saw in 2003 at the Hey Theater in Minneapolis, a work that has its own kind of time-lapse concept.  There will also be a production of Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera”, of which I believe I have a Phillips CD.  
One other thought:  given the real estate development in Shirlington and an old AMC movie theater nearby, would a modern entertainment complex, offering both stage and film in one connected facility, make sense for the area? 

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