by: Sandi Durell
War is hell! There’s no better interpretation and seeing the emotional and physical toll it takes on our men and women in service and their families should be a reminder to us all. It is not better portrayed than in Mat Smart’s new play “The Steadfast” (A Slant Theatre Project)
The play is inspired by a painting entitled “Legacy,” by Steve Alpert, depicting eight soldiers marching on an oil canvas. However, they each represent a different time zone: Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish-American War of 1898, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam thru present day.
This is the story of each of them, separate, yet together in their mutual love of country throughout American history, the time zone 1776 thru 2003, as they share their differences and similarities to fight for freedom. The play skillfully moves through the present and back and forth in flashbacks;- – a boy who leaves his mother to enlist in the Korean War – she waits, collects his letters, sitting under a full grown red oak tree that he planted as an acorn when he was a child, refusing to let go of him or the home that has been repossessed by the bank; soldiers on a short break in Kandahar, Afghanistan, fighting for freedom, nervous, a young private asking his female Sergeant to help him write a love letter to his girl back home; the Sergeant thinking of the husband she left behind when her heart told her to enlist after the September 11th attacks – they haven’t spoken in a year.
The startling sounds of gunfire, the loss of limbs and lives. Suddenly it is 1968, Vietnam looms, 3 friends (one, the son of the bank official) are making their way to the Canadian border;- – black soldiers in the belly of a ship at sea during the Spanish-American War talk of coconut milk as they drink water for which they must pay while the white soldiers above are given it freely. “You need a stomach for killing.” Suddenly, a family scene during the Revolutionary War, a musket, a fight for freedom.
You must stay alert during the 2 + hours (one intermission) and carefully follow the roadmap to appreciate the cleverness of Mat Smart’s important and emotionally impacting play, directed by Wes Grantom as it moves quickly through the different time zones, resulting in intertwining connections of the various generations. In the midst of it all are refreshing and delightfully witty moments such as Kellar (Matt Dellapina) in Act 2 catching up with his Sergeant Siyah Powell (Cloteal L. Horne) in a hospital, he having lost an arm, but once again asking for help to write to his sweetheart.
Many of the talented cast play multiple roles – Ben Kahre is Wesley Evers (the boy who planted the red oak tree), his mother Susan Greenhill and John Behlmann, Brent Langdon, Brendan Titley, Alex Ubokudom, David Ryan Smith and Nick Mills. It all takes place on a stage with a dirt surface, a façade of the back of a house and red oak tree leaves and branches designed by Daniel Zimmerman, costumes by Tilly Grimes, lighting by Driscoll Otto.
Mr. Alpert’s personal journey of self discovery through his art is his thank you to all the courageous men and women throughout history who have given their time, in many cases their lives or limbs to keep America safe. This is a story that reminds us why we must never forget those who fight on our behalf. This legacy belongs to all of us.
*Photo: Tristan Fuge
TBG Theatre, West 36th Street, NYC