Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oohrah! (Atlantic Stage 2)

Atlantic Stage 2
September 11, 2009
Bekah Brunstetter (writer)
Evan Cabnet (director)

I'm thrilled to see a new playwright's work onstage. The play, by new (to me) playwright Bekah Brunstetter, has a naturalistic, Chekhovian dramaturgy that demonstrates compassion and objectivity. Her dialogue is specific to place, time, milieu and personality, an invisible style that's a rare and valuable talent. And she gets structure: she's got a subplot that's as substantial as the main plot without overwhelming it.

Brunstetter uses that craft to depict the homefront during the Bush Wars: an officer's return to civvies and a handsome young man's hunger to join up despite his asthma. A ode to work, Oohrah! shows how service gives these men purpose. The actors in the Atlantic's production grab the opportunity to play such rich characters. Darren Goldstein, as the demobbed captain, stands out in a uniformly good company, showing the quiet physical confidence of a career soldier and the inadmissible anxiety of a warrior during peacetime.

But the play's ragged thread is that it doesn't portray women's sacrifice with the same keenness. It suggests that their dutiful sacrifice doesn't carry the same sense of fulfillment that the men's does. But the final scene, which brings together the play's three female characters, lacks the power of the previous two scenes of masculine fortitude. This scene peters out, and so does the play. This production is also hampered by merely-serviceable direction from Evan Cabnet, who overindulges in Brunstetter's only substantial flaw, a generic fondness for Southern eccentricity.

Still, Oohrah!'s value is its honesty in approaching a question that too many dismiss out-of-hand: why men (and women) serve in the military, especially right now. Brunstetter, in possession of intelligence and craft, offers an answer.


Oohrah! plays at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th St., betw. Eighth & Ninth), closing on September 27. Tickets?

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