August 22, 2007
By Melinda Schupmann
Though World War II is the catalyst that brings a group of soldiers together in this character-driven play, it is not its focus. Rather, playwright John Patrick uses his own experiences in that war to create a story that explores basic human decency. His arena is a Burmese convalescent hospital, and the players are an interesting mix of recovering soldiers from different allied services.
As the story begins, the soldiers are told to expect a Scottish soldier, Lachlen (Scott Jackson), who is dying of kidney failure but who has not been informed of the diagnosis. Their Colonel (Christopher Shaw) asks them to make Lachlen’s final days enjoyable. It turns out, however, that the prickly, hostile Scot wants nothing to do with his companions. Sister Margaret (Lesley Fera), a compassionate nurse, cheers the men along in the face of Lachlen’s antagonism, but he doesn’t make their kindnesses easy.
The soldiers are expertly cast: There’s Yank (Keith Stevenson), a stammering fellow from Alabama, who decries his nickname; Kiwi (Michael Balsley), so named for his New Zealand origins; Tommy (Ron E. Dickinson), whose outsized body matches his expansive geniality; Digger (Nathan Mobley), an Australian who is the victim of Tommy’s provocations; and Blossom (Michael Thomas), a native so named by Yank as he speaks no English. A brash orderly (Ron Cohen) rounds out the cast.
Though today these soldiers might be portrayed in a much rougher, possibly more realistic, fashion, this gentle story serves as a reminder that themes of civility and compassion can still elicit the desired effects in present-day audiences. Director Michael Rothhaar’s understanding of the needs of each character produces an emotionally rich, humorous, and thoughtful endeavor. Every actor is memorable.
Another standout in the production is Robert Broadfoot’s tropical hospital set, complete with insect netting that encapsulates each actor and helps with time changes and scene changes. Keith Endo’s lighting is sufficiently moody, and Michael Lonky’s sound design enhances the wartime period. This is a fine ensemble play with much to offer actors and audiences. It makes for a worthy revival with an ending that rewards and satisfies.