Militant Language – REVIEW

By Venus Zarris

Last week I witnessed a real life drama unfold when a teenage boy asked a woman to by a pack of cigarettes for him at a small convenient store, claiming to have left his I.D at home. When she refused he went off on a diatribe, delivering a strangely convincing monologue.

“Oh! So I get how it is. I’m old enough to go over to I-Rack and kill me a bunch of A-Rabs but I ain’t old enough to buy some squares? That’s BULLSHIT! See. See. Can go to I-Rack but can’t get me no squares. Bullshit man. Bullshit!”

His Militant Language might sound a bit absurd or convoluted but no more absurd or convoluted than the war he refers to. This young man’s rant came to mind at the opening of Militant Language, an opening that finds a young black American soldier on his knees and covered in blood…

Tonight I ventured out into the cold damp night to catch a glimpse of why Chicago is truly a great, if not the greatest, theater city. On the second floor of the unassuming Albany Park Building, Halcyon Theatre dares to take a shoestring budget and fill a relatively raw space with challenging, relevant and urgent drama.They succeed.

If you question the passion, conviction and talent of emerging theater companies in Chicago, this meager powerhouse is your answer. Don’t go expecting the whistles and bells of a flashy production. This is a bare bones, no frills rendition. Visually sparse yet very effective, the focus is on the core foundation of theater; strong acting and competent direction delivering ambitious writing.

Halcyon is part of the National Premiere, that is to say that companies are producing this play across the country, of playwright Sean Christopher Lewis’s Militant Language.(check out link) Militant Language

“War has a language that’s easy to speak because it doesn’t have time to think.”

Militant Language tells the story of an explosively violent sexual scandal that erupts on a U.S. military base in present day Iraq. This country’s military quagmire has torn open a porthole to hell on earth in that country and this play looks at some of its uniquely bizarre potential scenarios. Perhaps the script’s course of events at times taxes our suspension of disbelief but that stands as a metaphor for the suspension of disbelief required to fully grasp the war in Iraq to begin with.

It is no harder to imagine a commanding officer mistaking an Iraqi man fucking an American soldier for him attacking the soldier (as to him, violence between two men is far more palatable than sex), and then subsequently shooting the Iraqi to death, than it is to imagine that we are spending over 341 million dollars a day on a trumped up pointless war while the economy hemorrhages along with most of our societal institutions.

(check out link)Cost of War | National Priorities Project

Director Juan Castañeda impressively renders scene after scene with purpose, focus and an ability to access his ensembles strengths and vulnerabilities. Lewis’s script doesn’t make it easy for a director or a cast to create this reality or tell this story. There are several potential landmines along the way but in the hands of this company the efforts serve the playwright’s vision well and pay off profoundly for the audience.

The entire ensemble delivers remarkable work. There are tragically powerful performances and truly stand out scenes given by every actor with exceptional efforts by Trey Maclin and Jessica Jane Childs. Maclin, Commanding Officer Crane, could easily be a one-dimensional stereotype but instead he creates a volatile character with authenticity and impressive control. Childs, Private Beed, adds incredible depth, dysfunction, strength and thought-provoking humanity to her character.

Castañeda and his intelligent cast show well-crafted restraint. At times perhaps a little too much, as there are scenes where you feel it should go a little further or get a little crazier, but the believability, honesty and emotional connections are riveting.

As we look towards a the pending new presidential administration with the first sense of hope we’ve had in a long time, the urgency of sanity, logic and compassion being applied to the war in Iraq is finally a possibility. Halcyon’s impressive premiere of Militant Language calls this devastating crisis to the top of the priority list of problems that must be tackled.

Don’t miss this compelling, vital and exciting production.

3 ½ STARS

(“Militant Language” runs through November 21 at the Albany Park Building, 4745 N. Kedzie, 2nd Floor. 312-458-9170.)

*$5 tickets for people who live or work in the 60625 or 60630 zip codes on Tuesdays.*

FINAL TWO WEEKS! Halcyon Theatre

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