Review by: JK Clarke
Leave it to Bedlam Theatre Company to be behind one of the most compelling one-man shows you’ll see in quite some time. While most solo shows are tales of life experiences, often with a twist or a moral, Stephan Wolfert’s Cry ‘Havoc!’—now playing at the Access Theater as part of Bedlam Theatre’s “Man Solo” show—has a purpose. And a noble one, at that.
Beginning innocently enough, Wolfert introduces himself riding through the mountains of Montana on top of a freight train, ducking rail crossings, AWOL from the Army. He’s a young man who’s taken a step that will probably land him in a heap of trouble, and though the moment is “the winter of [his] discontent,” he is free from a tremendous burden and it’s clearly worth the predicament. We learn adversity is not foreign to the young man. With a drunk for a father (“the kind of alcoholic that Eugene O’Neill would be impressed with”) and a mother who ignores him, the diminutive boy suffered a debilitating stroke in a wrestling “accident” with a school bully that left him partially paralyzed. That we see a seemingly strong, well-recovered man in front of us telling the story is proof enough of a substantive journey. That the theater, and in particular Shakespeare, was the guiding light of the voyage is what’s most unexpected.
Peppering his story with beautifully performed soliloquies and speeches from Shakespeare’s most powerful plays—Richard III and Henry V chief among them—Wolfert recounts his discovery of the power of the Bard. Seeing his first performance, Richard III, he relates to the bedevilled Duke of Gloucester and future king almost too much: “There I sat in the audience, yet there I stood on stage.” From physical deformities to familial rejection, Richard III speaks to Wolfert, and he takes up acting in earnest. His real revelation, however, is how deeply he relates to the military themes in Shakespeare’s war and history plays. The life of a soldier, he realizes, has changed very little throughout the millennia. And the connection, he discovers, is comforting enough to be healing.
And that’s where the purpose comes in. Soldiers, then as now, are trained in intense, almost brutal programs in order to relinquish their identity: to surrender themselves to the military in uniformity and obedience. The problem, however, is that upon discharge, soldiers are not taught how to regain those lost identities. So, it occurred to Wolfert that powerful dialog in Shakespeare’s military scenes could be used to help veterans, and he began a program to work with those suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a common problem for returning soldiers) to reconnect with themselves through the words and plays of Shakespeare. He tells of remarkable successes, reaching through to men and women who had been emotionally shut down and not responding to traditional treatment.
While there is inspiration in Wolfert’s idea, it’s also his tremendous command and love of Shakespeare that most certainly furthers his program. One cannot help but be brought in by his infectious passion for the work. As almost trademarked by the actors in Bedlam, particularly Eric Tucker who smoothly directs this production, Shakespeare is accessible and even the more complex speeches are easy to understand in his hands. Wolfert could be a powerhouse of a high school civics teacher with his passion and clear vision; or, to see him perform Shakespeare would be an absolute treat. But, his dedication to “de-cruitment” of US military veterans is an even more impressive endeavor. With, as he says, 23 million living veterans in this country, many of whom still struggling with the horrors of that experience, it’s a relief to know that someone like Stephan Wolfert is able to reach out and help them.
While the show will only be running through the end of this week (and should not be missed), it will be returning later in the summer and is worth watching for, if you can’t see it now. At the very least, it’s a program that should be enthusiastically supported. Wolfert can be reached at DeCruitVets@gmail.com.
Cry ‘Havoc!’. As part of Bedlam’s Man: Solo Festival. Remaining performances: May 13 (7PM), May 15 (9PM), May 16 (2PM), May 17 (2PM) at The Access Theatre (380 Broadway at White Street). www.theatrebedlam.org