By Tania Fisher . . .
Award winning playwright, Joseph Krawczyk provides yet another beguiling piece of theater in this real-life-events-inspired alluring play. Krawczyk’s leads the way in mastering the combination of drama, absurdist, and moments of light comedy all in one theatrical production. There is a Samuel Beckett flavor to this play, which Krawczyk begins with and teases in one direction at first, but is able to manipulate its drama into another, ensuring his audiences are always comfortable to stay for the ride.
The character of the soldier, Joel, is loosely based on real-life former United Stated Army sniper Robert Bates, who murdered 16 Afghan civilians in the Kandahar Province of, Afghanistan, on March 11, 2012—an event known as the Kandahar massacre—and who is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Actor, and experienced Fight Director, Brent Shultz (The Treatment, Crisis Called New York) embodies the complex character of American Soldier, Joel Molloy, who is fighting in Afghanistan and fighting within himself over his recent horrendous actions. Joel hears voices and sees and engages with people who are perhaps real or not real. But one thing is certain: the voice of God has told him to go on a mission to destroy the city of Gomorrah and all of its inhabitants. Joel initially refuses, but the Voice promises that this will make Joel whole again, and so he accepts. Along the way he is sometimes guided and sometimes impeded by others who could be real, or not so real.
Shultz also choreographed the play’s fight scenes which were professionally and expertly presented.
Sean Phillips (“Prodigal Son,” “The Good Wife,” “Person of Interest”) plays Virgil, a man who offers support to Joel and insists he should accompany him to help Joel accomplish his mission. Phillips is a strong and competent actor with good instincts and authentic delivery. He is a pleasure to watch and skillfully brings resonance to a character whose existence remains somewhat abstract throughout much of the play.
Jennifer Hodges (An Actor’s Carol, Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing) reveals her acting dexterity by playing more than one character throughout. Hodges’ broad range of talent is evident as she delightfully flitters as a woodland creature, only to surprise us in another scene as a violent and desperate woman.
All three actors were impressively adept at handling the back and forth dialogue with sincerity and accurate timing. A lovely ensemble cast with good, natural ease between them, in no doubt due to excellent direction by experienced Theater director, Eddie Lew. Competent Lew is clearly accomplished at understanding the intimate nuances of a morality play. He made excellent use of the entire theater space and his creative choices, in conjunction with Krawczyk’s flawless script, were responsible for keeping the audience surprised and interested throughout. Lew’s expert handling of material that was in moments immersed in an intensely high level of drama while being conveyed in an absurdist theatrical way, was managed with noteworthy prowess. There was never anything forced that artificially pushed a dramatic moment, but rather, Lew allowed the actors to explore the authentic reality in moments of sheer unreality. Lew’s direction was solid and effective.
Continually engaging and intriguing, not just because of its protagonist being based on a real-life person and events, Guns, God, and Gomorrah is beautifully presented in the form of absurdist theater, yet still maintains its clear and strong thread throughout. It is the kind of drama with personified abstract qualities as its main characters and is intertwined with lessons about good conduct, and the road to redemption of oneself, with a need to make oneself whole again, and with a revelation at the end that not only makes sense but also provides clarity, leaving the audience very satisfied.
Although the character and references to past actions by the soldier Joel is based on a real person responsible for the Kandahar massacre, Guns, God, and Gomorrah does not judge, and it does not preach. It may, however, deeply affect all those who see this play who will be tempted to look internally to acknowledge or question if there is a necessary journey to Gomorrah to be made lurking in all our personal histories that may need to be faced up to and destroyed. A personal drama, an absurdist occasion in theater, a morality play: Guns, God, and Gomorrah doesn’t disappoint.
Guns, God, and Gomorrah. Through until April 3 at The American Theatre of Actors (314 West 54th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). One hour 30 minutes (no intermission). Tickets: Guns, God and Gomorrah