Monday, April 23, 2018

WOW Series Continues In Riveting “What Happens Next”


In the past month or so yours truly has seeen more than one play having to do with dealing with war and its aftermath: “Vietgone” and “Cambodian Rock Band”.

In each play the survivor(s) never reveal the atrocities they saw or underwent until forced either by time and/or family. In each of these cases the survivors of these wars were forced to come face to face with their past.

Since 2009 The La Jolla Playhouse features a signature program Without Walls (WOW) that is designed to take audiences out of the conventional trappings of traditional theatre and present theatre at an on site location or several locations, depending on the nature of the work.

Cast of "What Happens Next"
For this years WOW program, the Playhouse commissioned well respected and award winning playwright Naomi Iizuka, who heads the UC San Diego MFA Playwriting Program to pen a piece based on her years of interviewing veterans and their families, to visiting clinics and ‘learned their struggles’.

Some were willing to share, ‘some voices stuck with her’, some resonated over the months and both history and stories started to take shape and what they saw while on their many deployments in either Iraq and Afghanistan and became the backbone of her new play.

Teaming up with The Cornerstone Theatre Company and its director Michael John Garcés, several of its ensemble members, most veterans of these latest ‘wars’ in the Middle East’ can be seen acting in Ms. Iizuka’s latest world premiere play “What Happens Next?” at the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

It is a 100 or so minute exercise, or what might be called play acting, or coming face to face with who you really are, what you want others to know about you and how we see each other. Call it what you will, going through the paces looked to be therapeutic as many of those closed off to any form of suggestion, came around. 
Bruce A. Lemon, JR, Nico Marcolongo, Judy Bauerlein and Kionte Storey
Grueling and repetitive exercise with many moving parts as each of the participants acts out a scenario put forth to them by ‘Bonnie’ (Hannah Logan) their group leader.

Some therapy is in the form of games, some in just staring into another’s eyes and some moving around, changing seats or letting the anger out and or sharing.

The audience is seated in a large circle facing the group of veterans who are also in a smaller circle, within touching distance of each other. Some are looking away from the circle, others staring out into space, others moving in nervous anticipation of what’s to come ‘next’.

As an audience member I felt as if I could be drawn into the discussion at any minute. According to Iizuka ‘the audience becomes a kind of character in the play”.

Isles are left open for anyone wanting to leave the discussion which some did, but came back into the group shortly thereafter.

(L To R) Bruce A. Lemon, JR. Nick Borelli, Nico Marcolongo and Francisco Martinezcuello
The players include both ex military and actors of the Cornerstone Theatre Company.

Nick Borelli served six years in the Marines as an Infantry Officer. He was agreeable most of the time to participate in the exercises but shared his character (or?) was struggling with alcohol.  

Nico Marcolongo was a veteran of the Iraq conflict who served 14 years as a Marine Officer, he plays Frank with affable willingness to help facilitate, and Francisco Martinezcuello is a writer and a retired Marine. Francisco plays Mike as rather shy and reserved but goes along with the group. One of his amusing sharing was that he used to be a magician.

Actor Judy Bauerlein plays Tina a trauma nurse. She’s an unwilling participant and when you do hear her story as a trauma room nurse you will understand why she finds it so difficult to share it. I have to confess, I teared up when she told it.  

Bruce A. Lemon, JR is an artistic associate playing a quarrelsome Karl who, in the beginning refuses to participate. In fact each of the actors has his or her share of anger almost to the point of physical contact. Most of the angry outbursts are verbal but yours truly half expected some fisticuffs. 

Kionte Storey served in the Marines after high school and was deployed twice, once to Haditha later to Afghanistan where he stepped on I.E.D and lost his leg from the knee down. He came in later during an exercise where each was pretending to be something that would end up as a collage in a story-telling pantomime.

Local actor Hannah Logan (perfect for the role of Bonnie the facilitator) had the almost impossible job of leading this group.
Hannah Logan with cast
In her role as the facilitator her experience in the field as an actor, who had small parts in some TV show, was almost zero to none but she managed to pull it off. In real life Logan is a director and teaching actress.

Popping in with cookies, real life Blue Star Mother, Jeannie McFarling encourages Bonnie (Hannah) to stick with the program since what she is doing is for the good of everyone, including herself. 

From an outsiders look in, all involved were in a learning curve.  I’ll take their word for it, it all felt very authentic to me and my heart was heavy when I left the theatre. 

Over the course of watching the angst and pain of being and witnessing such destruction as few have ever see, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to tell.

On another note if the old men in our government had to send their own sons and daughters into harms way, they might think twice about it.  

“Older men declare war. But it’s the youth that must fight and die.” Herbert Hoover.   

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through April 29th
Organization: La Jolla Playhouse
Phone: 858-550-1010
Production Type: Drama (WOW Series)
Where: 9591 Waples Street, San Diego
Ticket Prices: $20.00
Web: lajollaplayhouse.org
Venue: Challenged Athletes Foundation
Photo: Jim Carmody

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