Playwright Jon Tuttle has an undeniably rich idea at the core of his play: the detention of German prisoners-of-war in a South Carolina camp during World War II, and the various allegiances and prejudices associated with that time and conflict. Bergen (Dan Wingard) is a lieutenant who has abandoned his Jewish faith and been drafted as noncombatant to improve morale among German POWs, who are committing suicide and attacking one another. Reiker (understudy David L.M. McIntyre) represents the Germans with typical Teutonic ruthlessness and bonds with Bergen's superior (Doug Burch), who resents Bergen's Hebraic background. Meanwhile, teenage black private Henry (Rich PierreLouis) experiences racism from his black sergeant and from the prisoners. When a Serbian POW (Rick Steadman) who speaks neither English nor German, playing Abraham Lincoln in a camp play, escapes, Henry pursues him into the woods, experiencing even more resentment toward his skin color.
Tuttle has a much stronger second act here and is to be commended for the complexity of his storytelling. Alas, Michael Rothhaar, faced with numerous short scenes and set changes that slow an already long play, is hamstrung as director. Tuttle does not explain the context of American POW camps on this country's soil, does not pay off a suggestion that American soldiers dine with prisoners, and generally pushes the credibility of the play with the character of Reiker who unrealistically insults his captors. And while we enjoy the humor of a Serbian captive who spouts lines from "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" in various situations, it becomes a device that does not reward as much as an English-speaking prisoner who might more fully interact with others. By play's end, though, Tuttle, aided by the fine work of PierreLouis, reaches us on a deeper level, most especially when he winds up in the home of a Gullah woman (Reena Dutt) and the full weight of his situation and racial history begin to descend upon him.
Presented by and at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. April 23–May 30. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 856-8611. www.theatreofnote.com. Reviewed by Brad Schreiber