Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Another American: Asking and Telling
Marc Wolf has brought his Obie winning one-man show to the New Conservatory Theater. The New York actor has written a stunning piece on gays in today's military and he performs all 18 characters in the production.
Marc takes no sides on the pros and cons of this very controversial issue, that of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that is shaking today's military personnel. Over a three year period, Marc interviewed 200 people across the country. He talked to straight and gay military people, veterans from World War 2 to the current Persian Gulf War. He also interviewed family members of slain gay servicemen.
The entire two hour (with intermission) presentation consists of actual accounts taken verbatim from the taped interviews that he conducted. The material is raw and honest, and it has a great impact on the audience. His transformation from character to character is amazing.
Mr. Wolf appears in dark slacks and a gray t-shirt and a military haircut - the perfect specimen of a Marine. The set is simple with a plain table and chair; a tape recorder lays on the table. There is a microphone in front of him that he occassionally uses. Mark changes into his various roles with amazing speed, from easy-going Southern drawl to striking Bronx accent. He portrays a lesbian pair in the military. He has perfect posture as one half of the couple and the husky voice of the other.
One of his best characterizations is an effeminate Vietnam vet known to his comrades in arms as "Mary Alice." He plays this role to the hilt but does not over-camp the character. In fact, the veteran has to stop because he is choked up with memories before he can go on. A tour de force of acting.
There is a discharged gay Marine who has to spend a night of fear at Camp Pendleton the day before he is released. He recounts the terror that he is put through by fellow Marines and the MPs. He to use the back gate of Camp Pendleton to leave the Marine Corps. The back gate is 14 miles from the nearest telephone and he had to walk miles just to reach civilization.
Probably the greatest emotional scene is when he portrays a mother of the sailor who was killed by fellow sailors on the U.S.S. Midway. It is heart-wrenching to see the mother's quietly composed rage as she tells the story of the death of her son. You could have heard a pin drop as Mark tells that story. Mr. Wolf is amazing in the role and I could see why he won his Obie.
I must admit that this production was viewed very subjectively as I was in the Air Force during the WW2. Fortunately, since I was a closeted gay, I did not see any of the prejudice that reeks in the current military. Probably because we were fighting a war, sexual orientation was not important. I knew and others knew of gay men in the squadron and no one seemed to mind, as long as they did not flaunt it or openly have sexual encounters. Many gay men lost their lives fighting in the Pacific.
The production will play at The McCarter Theatre in Princeton and the Mark Taper Forum in 2001. I recommend this production to all serious theater goers. The production is currently at the New Conservatory Theatre Center on Van Ness and it runs through August 20. Tickets are $18-$30.