note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Larry Stark
CORNERSTONE STAGE COMPANY
Producer Ellen Gorman
Graphic Artist Mike Delguidice
Film by Daniel Marcum
Photography by Reid Connell
Stage Managers Jean Gorman, Meredith Patterson
Young.........Reid W. Connell
Sometimes a play comes along that is so important that any esthetic considerations become irrelevant. Last week a crew of sixteen young people exploded out of Fitchburg into the BCA with a compelling work of art that everyone in America ought to see. "Outside The Wire" deals, graphically and honestly, with the lives and experiences of young men and women who, having been sent into war overseas, find it even harder to fit themselves back into civilian life. One significant detail of this production is that the three women and six men in the cast are exactly the age of the platoon members and their loved-ones they are playing. This lends a stunning subtext to every sentence and every pause. There is always more here than surface.
The touchy, ingrown loneliness of these returning veterans is explained, late in the play, this way: The Army trained them each to do specific jobs under strict rules, and so long as they stayed inside "the wire" of rules of engagement they were protected and safe. Outside the wire, though, each one is alone --- lonely, confused, and afraid. And the experiences of combat-readiness these days are such that, unless you have lived it yourself, its stark realities cannot, and often shouldn't, be explained; but they cannot be forgotten, or ignored.
The play is constructed of three parts. First there are the tense, laconic, troubled scenes in which a returned vet (Jimi Stanton) and his wife (Sara Cormier), try to resume their lives and raise a daughter that was born during the year he spent in Iraq. Each finds a confidant --- Jessie Notaro as the wife's best friend, Reid Connell as a platoon-buddy who drops in one afternoon, to talk.
This basic story is intercut with memory-scenes in Iraq --- raids and fire-fights in realistically bulky combat gear with machine-rifles at the ready in every nervous hand, and off-duty bullshit-sessions playing cards on their cots.
The third element is a series of facial close-ups of the seven platoon-members --- one of which is Jordan McCormack as the woman medic who, in other situations, is a combat-ready soldier. In these sequences they talk about themselves, about others of their group, of the difficulty of maintaining human touch with loved-ones back home, and of protecting those loved-ones from the realities of warfare and of life in a combat zone.
Director Daniel Marcum and Jimi Stanton who wrote the script (dedicated to his brother David, a returned veteran) are really film-people, and "Outside The Wire" would be --- should be --- a movie, if they had the money and the time to shoot it; it would reach the returned veterans seeking wider audience who need to see it, if they could. But, breathing the same air as its audience as it does, its compelling human honesty is doubly effective. Sometimes actors lapse into "film-acting" --- speaking softly to one another rather than including the live audience in the scene --- but this only draws that audience into a more intense concentration.
"Outside The Wire" is no one person's show, but a group effort. Daniel Marcum, who shot the film, explained that, after a world premiere up in Fitchburg, the cast did a lot of study and research for their characters and so, when the Boston run became a reality, he shot the whole thing over again. Each individual, in-character, spent an hour improvising before the camera, out of which Marcum used five minutes or so from each.
The result, however, is not only deeply resonant flm-sequences, but solidly grounded interplay from all actors, and pauses and silences aching with meaning.
And ultimately, in an experience of this kind, the "talk-backs" with that entire cast after the show, with spontaneous interactions from returned vets seeing the show for the first time, may be the most important part of the whole.
The show will run only for one more week-end at the BCA. And, unless some enlightened veterans group can find the money for them to go farther, "Outside The Wire" will become history.
As a fotnote: last year Jimi Stanton was nominated but then ignored for any recognition as the year's Best Actor in what I still think was the year's best play, "9 Circles". Having seen this play, which he had written before getting the part in "9 Circles", it's easy to understand why that performance was so good! So I hope that Stanton, Marcum, and the entire CORNERSTONE gang stick around Boston a while before they all become famous. Let's make them feel welcome.
Break a leg; break a leg ALL!