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SOLDIERS DON'T CRY

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"In 1970 when women weren't allowed to fight, six U.S. female soldiers were mysteriously captured and held hostage in a Vietnamese barrack." Presumably this program-cover proclamation is factual, and no doubt there is an interesting story to be told based on those facts, but Layon Gray's rambling, repetitive, and overwrought drama is not it. Writer-director Gray could have better served the play by handing it over to a more accomplished scribe for greatly needed rewrites, editing, and polishing, and by bringing in a director who could have provided a sense of military order and discipline, heightened the dramatic tension, and made the conflicts among the women, their superiors, and their captors mean something.

Gray's script feels more like a first draft screenplay—and, indeed, his program bio indicates that a feature film version of the story is currently in postproduction. There is a short, strange, out-of-place sequence in which several of the women speak on top of one another—and which reeks of self-importance. He has directed the piece with too much emphasis on personal backstories and not enough on the more intriguing tale of what these Women's Army Corps volunteers endured; and there are protracted and completely unnecessary flashback sequences that further draw out an already too-long ending. What's pointedly missing in this mishmash are any guts and a deeper sense of truth.

Gray's actors are a mostly capable bunch but they are desperately in need of much stronger technical and creative support to bring the story into focus. As it stands, the real-life story feels as if it has gone AWOL in a land of good intentions, and that is both a disappointment and a loss.

"Soldiers Don't Cry," presented by the L.A. African American Repertory Company at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Sun. 7 & 9:30 pm. Jan. 23-Feb. 13. $10. (323) 769-5090.

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