Playwright Craig Wright wanders into treacherous theatrical territory in this contemporary drama about the political divides created by the war in Iraq. Political plays too often descend into static polemics. However, the gifted Wright has an innate dramatic sense that naturally overpowers the didactic, although it takes him a while to rev up the drama.
The play has a familiar premise: Three hunting buddies meet for their annual hunting trip to catch up, relive old times, and hash out past grievances. This is often a recipe for endless talk and little action, and for the first 20 minutes of the play it looks like that is exactly where Wright is headed.
Dyson (Shawn Michael Patrick) and Kenny (Matt Kirkwood) are waiting for their buddy Graham (Mark Doerr) to show up at their meeting spot in the woods. He's late. So they wait. In the interim we learn that Graham is a congressman whom these two friends helped send to the Capitol: Dyson was the campaign manager, and Kenny used inheritance money to finance the campaign.
While Kenny feels a bit slighted by their big-shot friend, he is still a fan. Dyson, on the other hand, has soured on Graham, who has at least tacitly supported the war. And Dyson is going through a personal crisis since his son announced he would join the Marines, for which Dyson blames Graham. After a very slow start, the play gets moving when Graham arrives and, within moments, Kenny's beloved dog Lady is accidentally shot by one of his two friends.
A number of playwrights have tackled the controversy over the Iraq war that has splintered the nation, but few have succeeded in capturing the epic nature of the tragedy that it represents to most Americans. Wright doesn't succeed either, although his goal seems not so much to comment on the wider impact of the war but rather on how the politics of war and division can rupture deep friendships.
The performances are solid and believable, each actor successfully portraying the subtleties of these "regular guys." Patrick brings a fine balance of dark and light to the anguished Dyson, Kirkwood shows a vivid poignancy as Kenny, and Doerr is spot-on as the congressman who is torn between his down-home upbringing and the allure of Washington. Scott Alan Smith's direction is crisp and straightforward. The set, by Stephen Gifford, is stunning and evocative, as is the lighting by Derrick McDaniel.
Presented by and at the Road Theatre,
5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Apr. 25-Jun. 14.
(866) 811-4111. www.roadtheatre.org.