Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Sandstorm: Stories from the Front
Also see Susan's review of Urinetown
As a piece of "instant theater," The Sandstorm does have a place in the current discourse especially, perhaps, in Washington. The production now running at MetroStage is the east coast premiere, following two runs in Los Angeles.
Director Brett Smock is working with 10 talented, if somewhat inexperienced, young actors as they explore the fragmented existence of men in a war zone, all drawn from elements of the playwright's experiences. A ghostly narrator (Darius A. Suziedelis) provides the framework, finally telling his own story at the end of the 70-minute performance.
The overall atmosphere is of dislocation, and of sharing the stories that soldiers traditionally keep from their families and friends at home. The monologues tell of sensitive men crazed by grief (one says of slaughtering Iraqis following an ambush, "No one showed our men any mercy. Why should I show any?") and others surprised by their sadism toward enemy soldiers; Marines placed in harm's way for trivial reasons; the claustrophobia that begins with the relentless heat of the desert, amplified by wearing protective gear and riding in a tank. The narrator explains that the speakers are trying to break the unwritten law that the people who know the truth about life on the front lines are not supposed to talk about it to anyone else.
The problem is that some of the writing is facile; some of the speeches seem too deliberate, less the cries of souls in pain, and rather more literary than immediate. ("Tender moments can hurt you worse than bullets," the narrator says to sum up. The entire play makes this point without stating it so baldly.) What Huze and his actors are saying should be heard, but making the theatrical message as effective as the human one will take a bit of tinkering.
The scenic design by Jen Price is both simple and highly evocative: a framework of metal rods covered with crumpled fabric, which under Matthew J. Fick's lighting design shifts from deep jungle green to midnight blue and the vibrant reds and oranges of sunrise.
Producer Charlie Fink in association with MetroStage