Written & directed by William P. Bradford II
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The Warrriors is something of a bold choice for the fall production from Trinity High School. A searing, expressionist examination of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) in modern-day veterans of conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Vietnam, it is loosely based on Aeschylus’ The Persians.
The set design by G.E. Simmons Falk is suggestive of the inhospitable landscapes of the jungle and the desert, but the oversize geometric points also evoke a violent explosion, so that the stage becomes a crucible within which innocence and peace of mind are sacrificed. The ensemble portrays a range of veterans grappling with different degrees of PTSD. Some are able to tell their stories in an even fashion, while others are suffering levels of pain that that seem to require that they only express themselves by screaming. The narrative is mostly limited to these individual stories, and the perspective of mothers in both the United States and the Middle East are brought to bear.
William P. Bradford II avoids the obvious controversy that might result from dealing with the political and social machinations that brought about the war zones he refers to here. In his program notes, he explicitly states that The Warriors, “is not an anti-war play,” and the focus throughout does remain on the damage to the human spirit; an acceptance of sorts that war is an inherent part of human existence. Bradford has invested a good deal in researching the material, and the project is clearly personal for him. He follows the Greek source in structure – the group of veterans often functioning as a Chorus, as well as establishing a surprisingly academic tone.
Tone, however, is the show’s problem. Most of the cast enter at an emotional pitch that is maintained consistently for the duration of the show, so the brutality of the emotions becomes numbing and remote. Many of the actors scream most of their lines, which is no substitute for building character and connecting with the audience. The play is too didactic, too remote, to accomplish that, and the oversize cathartic rage expressed in the performances comes off as bludgeoning instead of powerful. Even such tragic circumstances as are illustrated here benefit from grace and humor that provide valuable dimension, and The Warriors is unrelentingly grim.
It is a hard observation to make about a production that has so clearly employed substantial commitment on the part of everyone involved. Emily Richardson does good work with the play’s best opportunity for character development, and the ensemble overall is nothing if not committed to the task at hand. They work in concert, fluidly moving in choreographed patterns of movement, and making entrances of ghostly aspect. There were no dropped cues or flubbed lines. Sound and lighting are also creatively utilized to good effect, and Frances Lewis’ costumes delineated a range of character expression that was crucial to the success of the show.
Ultimately, The Warriors follows its classical antecedent into a rather schematic investigation of its topic, feeling more sackcloth and ashes than you might expect given the subject, which is an important one. Whatever your political stripe, our system struggles mightily with providing support for military veterans at all levels, as stories such as the rescinding of combat bonuses paid to California National Guard who served in Iraq continue to point out. The play is intelligent and ambitious, as is the production, even if it does engage the audience as meaningfully as it should.
November 10-20, 2016
Trinity High School
4011 Shelbyville Road
Louisville, KY 40206
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.