note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Beverly Creasey
With Veterans Day just behind us, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ahead of us, it would seem an ideal time to revisit David Berry’s G.R. POINT. The Hovey Players’ searing revival of the 1977 Viet Nam play could serve as a cautionary tale for a nation again bent on making the world safe for democracy.
G.R. POINT is the locale for a platoon of soldiers whose job it is to clean and bag bodies for shipment home. Berry’s play was written just after the fall (or liberation, depending on your point of view) of Saigon, a full ten years before the spate of Viet Nam films like PLATOON, FULL METAL JACKET and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY.
The horrors of Viet Nam are seen through the eyes of eight soldiers, seven of whom have been at it for a while and one soldier who is fresh off the boat. All (except Michael Corbett’s vapid lieutenant) are boys who soon will become damaged men, ruined by the upside down world that is war…where killing, stealing, lying and desecration are sanctioned, the sergeant would say ‘even necessary’ for survival…where as specialist fourth class “K.P.” poetically quips, “the amber waves of grain have been defoliated.”
Berry himself is a Viet Nam vet and although he covers the all too familiar travesties of war, he manages to make his play fiercely dramatic, without pounding home a message. His characters say it for him: “You frag ‘em, we bag ‘em.” As someone tells the green new guy, “Things are funny here that aren’t in the civilized world.”
We now know that a disproportionate number of African-American men were drafted into the war and G.R. POINT’s small core company is representative, with a Black sergeant, two Black privates, one Hispanic private and one Vietnamese woman who serves as a slave to the soldiers in order to feed her children.
Director Michelle Aguillon’s young actors probably weren’t even born when the Viet Nam war filled our eyes and ears with body counts and grisly photographs of napalmed villages. Yet this cast brings it all back, so freshly, my mind is flooded with images and memories I thought were buried or resolved.
What a story Aguillon and company have brought to life (and death): The central focus of Berry’s play is the idealistic new guy, whose journey takes him from shock and indignation at what he’s experiencing to full immersion in the holocaust. Garrett Blair gives a tour de force performance as the reluctant soldier who emerges the unstrung “conquering hero.”
Aguillon gets extraordinary ensemble work from the Hovey cast, with Keedar Whittle a standout as the wise-cracking, sharp dressing, dope-smoking “K.P.” Tyler Raynolds gets a lovely, heartbreaking soliloquy about his sweet memories as an altar boy and Claude Del does a chilling turn as the jaded, mean-spirited sergeant.
Patrick Flanagan’s quirky performance fits the character of Blair’s wacky sidekick to a T and Louis Jacques, Jr. imbues the character of “Shoulders” with a quiet nobility. Ben Bartolone is the company conscience and Bartolone hits all the right chords as the guy who feels personally responsible for the bodies on their trip to their last stop at the air force base.
Jenna Lea Scott has the remarkable task of portraying a symbol. She does so with grace and great humanity. Her tender/ shocking love scene with the new soldier will take your breath away. Sometimes the best theater is found in out of the way spaces. G.R. POINT is one of those plays where all the elements (set, lights, sound etc) come together and pack a wallop you don’t soon forget.