Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lost boy

What do you do when the actors are willing, but the text is weak?  That's the quandary I'm in about Bill Cain's 9 Circles, now at the BCA in a production by the Publick Theatre (through next weekend).

The script (by the founder of the long-lost Boston Shakespeare Company) wants to be a hard-hitting exposé of our collective shrug regarding the young men (and women) left damaged and destroyed by our grand misadventure in Iraq.  It traces the descent of one broken soldier, Daniel Edward Reeves (Jimi Stanton, at left), who falls from the military, through the court system, and down into the clutches of the death chamber, as he is tried and convicted for the rape and murder of a young woman and her family in Iraq.

Reeves, a natural born killer, indeed seems to be guilty of this terrible crime - and yet you can't say he never cried out for help before he snapped; in Cain's fractured telling of this grim tale, the military recruited (and exploited) Reeves for his instincts, but then washed its hands of him once those instincts began to spin out of control; so all our hands, as it were, have some Iraqi blood on them.

This is a complex and worthy tale to tell, but I'm afraid the playwright pretty much scrambles it; his script lurches from one artificially pumped-up set-up to the next, and we can predict every "big reveal" well before it's revealed (and can't help but notice the script's many puzzle pieces don't really fit together all that compellingly). Indeed, by the finale, when even poor Reeves's lethal injection goes horribly wrong, we've begun to feel that for Cain, his lead character is just a kind of punching bag, on which he's working out all his frustration with the complacency of Bush- (and Obama-) era America.

Not that I don't share those frustrations. Still, I know a real play when I see one, and I'm afraid this isn't the genuine article. But nobody told the actors that, and they each turn in improbably memorable performances - particularly young Stanton, a newcomer who seems to have gotten completely beneath his character's skin.  Under Eric Engel's nuanced direction, the versatile Will McGarrahan and Amanda Collins provide memorable back-up; the atmospheric lighting is by John Malinowski.  See it if you want to catch a rising star, and get an idea of just how far talent can disguise its material.

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