Theatre review from Incident Light by Diane Windeler.

Classic Theatre Presents/The Surround Project: 9 Circles by Bill Cain

 

WAR IS HELL

June 20, 2017

In 2006, Pvt. Steven Dale Green was given an honorable discharge from the US Army in Iraq with the notation that he suffered from a personality disorder. Not long afterwards, it was learned that he and three other soldiers had killed three Iraqi family members, then raped and murdered a 14 year-old girl. Under an act that permits soldiers to be prosecuted in US civilian courts for crimes committed overseas, he was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to life without parole. In 2014, he hanged himself in prison.

Bill Cain’s riveting 90-minute play, 9 Circles (2010), was inspired by Pvt. Green’s experiences, but it is afictional account. The title references Dante’s nine horrifying circles of Hell, here called “Iraq,” “Federal Prison,” “the Trial,” etc.

The piece is playing at the Classic Theatre as part of its summer Classic Theatre Presents series, here in conjunction with the Surround Project (created by Eva Laporte and Zach Lewis), which is dedicated to “surrounding the play with dynamic context” providing access points and showing the many ways in which live theatre is relevant.

In director Eva Laporte’s tautly measured production, the central character, Daniel Reeves, is a desperately unhinged 19 year-old whose traumatic childhood and numerous failings finally led him to join the army in hopes of finding direction. The reality of war and all its horrors only served to make him more disturbed.

Zach Lewis’s portrayal is absolutely astonishing, one of the most powerful, heart-stoppingly emotional performances in this writer’s memory. It would be easy to slip into scenery-munching, but he never comes close as he delivers the enlisted man’s typically shouted responses, becomes the utterly vile, unrepentant killer or a defeated young man whose confusion and vulnerability are — however briefly – pitiful.

Reeves is confronted by several characters as he advances through the circles: lawyers, a pastor, a shrink and more, all played by a trio of exemplary actors in multiple roles. These include Torrence B. White as the lieutenant who discharged Reeves and a pastor with decidedly questionable motives. Andrew Thornton convincingly plays three different attorneys, each with an agenda, but he is most affecting as a civilian attorney who thinks he might be able to persuade a jury to be sympathetic if Reeves will only tell him why he committed those terrible acts.

Mackenzie Jené effectively portrays a couple of lawyers and an especially worn down, worn out shrink who plainly needs a long vacation. She doesn’t say so, but makes it clear that she has seen too many of these kids who should never have been accepted by the army.

And that’s the primary crux of the piece: why, as often happens, do the armed forces recruit just anyone, considering they might come from dysfunctional families, be high school drop-outs or have undocumented mental or emotional issues, and send them off to war?

The final scene is Reeves’ lengthy monologue explaining himself. It was beyond provocative, leaving the audience in stunned silence before the lights were turned up and they were forced into a noisy response.

Among the Surround Project’s contributions was an informal appearance by a former soldier and his therapy dog who are part of the Heel the Heroes organization, which that provides canine and equine therapy for vets with PTSD.

The play is for adults only because of explicit language and brief nudity. No patron under the age of 17 will be admitted. Its brief run concludes at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 22, Friday, June 23, and Saturday, June 24 *Also a dual ASL interpreted performance; and 3 p.m Sunday, June 25.

-Diane Windeler

 

Diane Windeler was for many years a freelance music and theatre critic, first for the San Antonio Light and then for the San Antonio Express-News.

The Classic Theatre, 1924 Fredericksburg Rd. Call 589-8450 or 1-800-838-3006;

www.classictheatre.org or www.thesurroundproject.com 

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