note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Americans can’t forget the reported atrocities that our soldiers committed in the My Lai massacre on March 16,1968. A squad, under the command of Lt. William Calley, annihilated 700 Vietnamese civilian men, women and children, claiming they were just following orders, wiping out the enemy, the Viet Cong, who infiltrated villages, US Army camps - everywhere. The soldiers claimed battle lines blurred, and the name of the game was killed or be killed.
Playwright Bill Cain’s blockbuster play, “9 Circles,” premiered in Mill Valley, Calif., at the Marin Theatre Company last October, and created a stir there. It continues to shock and awe audiences into silence, in its East Coast premiere with the Publick Theatre of Boston.
Cain’s play is based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and, although fictional, is framed around actual military events in the Middle East. In this psychological thriller, Cain doesn’t explore war crimes or their impact, though. He focuses on a 19-year-old soldier who is accused of committing hideous crimes in Iraq - murdering a father, mother and young child, then raping and murdering the 14-year-old daughter.
Director Eric Engel wrings every drop of emotion from his actors and the audience, who sit perched on the edge of their seats throughout the play. Jimi Stanton is riveting as Pvt. Daniel Reeves, a devoted soldier who is honorably discharged because he has mental “issues” that can’t be solved, and is later arrested in the US for what he thinks is driving drunk, but involves his war crimes committed on March 12, 2006.
Wanting desperately to return to the military, the only place he feels comfortable, Reeves is baffled, confused and wary, as he’s assailed by military and civilian lawyers, prosecutors, a warped priest, psychiatrists, and others. They claim they want to help him, but twist his mind, gnawing at his self-truths
. Antagonists and protagonists, (deftly portrayed by Amanda Collins and Boston veteran actor Will McGarrahan), interview, interrogate, accuse and manipulate Reeves. Through swift costume changes behind three separated panels, the two actors change characters. Stanton’s costume changes symbolize passage of time and change of place, from the war zone, to a holding cell, prison, court, and his ultimate infernal descent.
Reeves knows he’s not intelligent, but knows he isn’t stupid, either. And he’s brutally honest - so much, in fact, that he not only makes sense, but exhibits empathy and caring for his “brothers” and justifiable lack of feeling for “the enemy”. Reeves witnessed unspeakable atrocities committed against his fellow soldiers. His sergeant was shot by a suicide bomber, while extending a hand to the Iraqi. Reeves served with a “traffic” squad that was perpetually under attack. The image of his lying on top of his sergeant, trying to keep him alive, haunted Reeves, along with the death and mutilation of three buddies after his discharge.
Cain’s dialog is hard-hitting, raw, a frightening expose’ on young men who go to war and whose souls are crippled by horrendous enemy acts of evil. John Malinowski’s barren set and symbolic lighting focuses on each character, providing dramatic impact.
We leave the theater, wondering who the real victim is.
BOX INFO: One-act, 105-minute psychological thriller, appearing with the Publick Theatre of Boston through April 9 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3,8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Tickets, $33-$37.50. Call 617-933-8600 or visit www.bostontheatrescene.com.