Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Radio Check 2330"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark


"radio check 2330"

Directed by Playwright Art Hennessey

Set Design by Art Hennessey
Costume Design by Art Hennessey/Amanda Good
Lighting Design by Ben Cleaves
Sound Design by Matt Hillas
Stage Combat Joshua Rollins/Floyd Richardson
Video by Jim Barnes
Stage Manager Kathryn Masters

Sergeant Thomas Fox..................................Nathan Blew
Sergeant Troy Barland..............................Joshua Rollins
Sergeant Michael Maranto.............................Matt Hillas
Specialist Stanley Bodner........................Scott Grumling
Specialist Kiah Biddle...........................Catherine Reulet
Sergeant Horace Stevens.............................Robert Fuller
Sergeant Derrick Bolinger.......................Beno Chapman
Sergeant Michael Williams..........................Jason Reulet
2nd Lieutenant Scharff.............................Amanda Good
Sergeant First Class William Acres......Floyd Richardson
Runaway Soldier............................................Stacy Rock

The Essayons Theatre Company is so dedicated to their collaborative creative process that only the very last entry in the company biographies lists "Art Hennessey (Director/Playwright)". Their newest work "Radio Check 2330" centers on a platoon of our new peacetime peace-keeping army fighting themselves and each other while on an irrelevant mission in a Mojave Desert training exercise. The intense drama is as embarrassingly realistic as "A Few Good Men" but much better written --- and on Hennessey's sand-pit set in the BCA's Leland Center all the action is right in your lap.

The bawdy bickering, swearing and complaining in act one identifies the solidly individualistic characters, and makes clear the fact that their social pecking-order has little to do with rank. The platoon has hung on after a training exercize monitoring radio traffic for the search for a deserter. They're not happy that the unit was volunteered for extra duty by their hard-nosed West point lieutenant, who happens to be a woman. The group is haunted by another woman --- a young Specialist (i.e. pfc) who, after losing a sexual-harassment suit, committed suicide. These background details emerge through hints and vague remarks, and come together clearly only in a darker, more conflicted second act. The play is at bottom about the bitchy ennui of professional peacetime soldiers as much as it is about sexual tensions in today's army.

The main strength of the show, however, is the intensely focused ensemble playing that pits real people vocally and even physically against one another for both vital and trivial reasons. The spectrum of types and of commitments either to the Army or to buddies is wide, the accents are more often than not those of poor white trash coping with frustration and boredom. Every one of these soldiers comes onstage with a past, an attitude, and a place in the pecking-order, eager to defend or change that place. Every actor is a star, but it would be unfair to single out any one of them because every one's moment centerstage seems to stand out. Each is an individual, but all wear the same ensemble uniform.

What could be the ghost or perhaps the memory of the suicide girl haunts this platoon, as does the shadowy figure of that deserter. Ben Cleaves' lights carefully isolate these dreamy, at first bewildering fantasies just as precisely as they do the widely scattered squads connected largely by radio checks. Onstage television sets use Jim Barnes' video clips to add either tonal images, or background, or parallel commentary. The production bristles with detail only a fraction of which can register in one performance, but ultimately it's all there in an engrossing, exciting, eye-opening, thoroughly satisfying theatrical event.

The bad news is that such a fine, ground-breaking play is, much too often, playing to empty seats.
You can change that, though, can't you?

Love,
===Anon.


"radio check 2330" (till 28 October)
ESSAYONS THEATRE COMPANY
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617) 426-2787


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