Sticks and Bones – War is Hell

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By Sandi Durell

 

121-Schnetzer-Ullman-Pullman-HunterThe New Group’s season is in a new facility, The Linney Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center where it is reviving David Rabe’s black comic-tragedy “Sticks and Bones,” a statement on the ravages of the Vietnam War – its victims not only the soldiers but the families at home and America as a whole. The play premiered in 1971 at the Public Theater, opening on Broadway in 1972 and winning a Tony Award.

Utilizing the 50s/60s perfect prototype family, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Rabe throws the irrational, unrealistic. sweep it under the rug, behavior of Mom and Dad (played by Holly Hunter and Bill Pullman) in your face. Harriet chirps and chatters relentlessly, living in her own little faultless world until their blind son David (Ben Schnetzer), severely damaged emotionally by the brutalities he committed, puts cracks in the facade. At times, we laugh out loud at the silly, ridiculous and exaggerated reactions and personas of these characters or sit perplexed watching their bizarre behavior – David being delivered by a Sergeant (Morocco Omari) who needs his shipping receipt signed, while other wounded warriors on truckloads wait outside to be delivered; Ozzie’s strange reaction unable to hug his son and caring more about his broken TV; Mom’s detachment and caricature-like chirping as she runs back and forth to the kitchen in unrealistic optimism saying everything will be just fine; and younger brother Rick (Raviv Ullman), in happy go lucky mode with his guitar and camera hanging around him, taking flash pictures and always in need of soda and fudge, and filled with indifference, while a hysterical David cries “I don’t know these people” – unable to contain his rage and venom. They portray the perfectly alienated, conflicted family ripe for a good psychiatrist’s couch

David spends most of the time in his room, in a reverie with the spirit of a young Vietnamese girl, Zung (Nadia Gan), his lover. in Vietnam. She follows him everywhere, tucked in his arms in bed; he, unable to lose the haunting memories of the horrors. Even Father Donald (Richard Chamberlain) is unable to talk to him and when he tries (at the behest of Mom), David beats him with his walking stick, an outcry at the prejudice and bigotry both the Priest and David’s parents constantly repeat about the yellow people, the diseases they carry – “You know what the Bible says about these people!”

All the while, Ozzie dreams of his younger days, as a track athlete; his freedom riding the rails but now “feels like a ship at sea” – filled with his own anger and disappointments barely able to disguise what is seething inside. As David relates the memories, the killings and murders of wartime, Ozzie & Harriet push it all deep inside, seemingly unfeeling, lacking understanding, hiding in their own Neverland.

Decisions have to be made for the betterment of the family to keep their wrappings tight and unbreakable, and so they do what any red blooded American family would do – would you?

Bill Pullman’s dry, low-key delivery projects the man who has been beaten down, as occasional sparks of what might have been surface with an underlying awareness that stays hidden; Holly Hunter’s performance is almost child-like, as she stays deeply buried in the façade of this shallow woman who functions via a script that goes round in her head of how things should be, pushing out emotions and realities all the while blaming Ozzie for teaching David sports and fighting; her disjointed physical gesturing and high pitched twittering sometimes a distraction. Ben Schnetzer is forceful and frightening as the damaged vet and gives a powerfully rousing performance, even getting sexual with his own Mom to make a point. It’s grand to watch Richard Chamberlain portray Father Donald spouting righteousness and prejudice. Young Raviv Ullman provides an on-going chuckle each time he appears in his complete detachment.

Scott Elliott directs this cohesive, tightly woven cast with great finese as they throw emotional punches one after another.

The family lives in their 50’s style double decker house, replete with all the details of the era, in Derek McLane’s set, accessorized by Susan Hilferty’s costumes and Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting.

You may find yourself wanting to rush onto the stage and shake these people hoping to knock some sense into them; after all we’re living in 2014.

*Photos: Monique Carboni

‘Sticks and Bones’ – The New Group, Pershing Square Signature Center (Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre) 480 West 42 Street, runs thru December 14th, 3 hours with intermission   www.ticketcentral.com

 

 

 

 

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