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The War Room

In writer/director Cassius Allen Shuman's drama, the clouds of war are fast approaching the White House. And what is President Doyle (Henry LeBlanc) doing to prepare? Why, he's getting fellatio from his sultry in-office intern (Sasha Rovin). However, the intern at least has the good grace to rush out of the room when General Rader (Kim Estes), Secretary Stone (Frank Ashmore), and NSC Advisor Diane Daniels (Kristin Carey) storm in to announce an escalation of hostilities involving a particularly nasty-sounding Middle Eastern despot. President Doyle's first inclination is to go all gung ho to protect the good name of the United States. However, when Doyle suddenly finds himself visited by the ghost of his dead younger brother, Eddie (Dean Purvis), who died in Vietnam, he discovers that there is more than one side to any decision he makes.

Shuman's drama offers a poignant philosophical argument about the debate that should surely take place before nations go to war. Yet the work's point of view often seems awkwardly pre-9/11. As a political and moral drama, the piece plays like a West Wing rerun--and when we say a rerun, we mean circa 1990. Meanwhile the intellectual give-and-take is scarcely rigorous or even believable; one hopes that the president, on the eve of war, is not so easily distracted by the irrelevancies sidelining him here.

Shuman offers a workmanlike production that hits its marks but is full of peculiar emotional beats that don't make sense. Characters burst into tears or fly into furies at weird moments. The performances are competent but undermined by the awkwardly muddled psychology with which Shuman saddles the cast. It's hard for LeBlanc's Doyle to rise above seeming anything other than an oily, corrupt, hypocrite. And a subplot, in which Doyle is visited by Eddy's widow (Kathrin Lautner) and daughter-in-law (Amy Christine) show up to petition the president to do them a special favor, is full of histrionic acting that just feels creepy. Yet, Carey's warm and obviously brilliant NSC advisor hits just the right balance of dedication and warmth, and Purvis' hardboiled soldier boy makes a fascinating, angry contrast to the other figures' cerebral detachment as they send him to his fate.

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