A belligerent, tough-guy father. A mother ferociously protective of her brood. War, deception, death, and life. Sounds like Arthur Miller, right? With the world premiere of A Folded Flag, Denver playwright James R. Cannon rightfully takes his cap off to the master. And while it's pretty much impossible to out-Miller Miller and it's doubtful that Cannon is trying to do so, A Folded Flag does come off as a powerful grasp at truth in the American family landscape, a Miller-like interest.
The lives of the blue-collar Grigsons and the German-Jewish Zimmermans come together a few months shy of the beginning of World War II. One family is sending a son, Jimmy (Travis Goodman), off to war; the other has fled Europe with their daughter, Sarah (Theresa Reid), and found hard-wrought success in an America where bull-headed Jack Grigson (Will Brown) never advanced. What really happens between the families still grips Abbey Grigson (Patty Mintz Figel) five decades later as she nears death in her hospital bed, watched after dutifully by her surviving younger son, Ben, a tax man.
The play pretty much belongs to Abbey, who commandeers a sickroom better than any other character since A in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women. Mintz Figel takes the role by the horns -- her thin, sinewy arms full of history, her humor dead on, and her will to take care of those who belong to her, the Zimmermans included, a nuanced piece of acting.
An almost 20-year veteran of Denver stages, Paul Page relishes Ben's seriousness as he attends the dying Abbey with a practiced, weary patience and love strong enough to take her good-natured and not-so-good-natured jibes in stride. While leaning toward the somberness of a funeral director, Page creates a Ben that can at least smile at himself. Missing by a heartbeat a true Belfast accent, the classically trained Reid doubles as nurse Erin with vitality and fireplug strength, and with more than a touch of gentle humanity and humor. Joe Wilson, fresh from a turn as Willy Loman's brother in the Aurora Fox Arts Center's Death of a Salesman, captures Jacob Zimmerman's discovery that hard honest work in his new American home pays off, even if, unfortunately, all is far from well in either the Grigson or his own household.
Director Christopher Leo combines a meticulous attention to detail (the appropriate turn, say, on the appropriate half-line) with the realization that these characters -- some of them, anyway -- must discover themselves in full view of the audience. Playwright Cannon's previous work -- beginning with Sports Talk 2000 in 1996 -- was adventurous in its own way. But it was nothing like this solid, full serving of Americana.
A Folded Flag runs June 3-July 8 at the John Hand Theater, 7653 E. 1st Place, Denver. Tickets: (303) 562-3232. Website: www.afoldedflag.com.