Also see Sharon's review of Saturday Night at the Palace
And, true to form, Wright gives us an intimate play concerned more with individuals than rehashing a debate over the war. In fact, when the play finally gets around to actually having the argument about the war, it isn't argued particularly well on either side. But presenting the best arguments against (or for) the war isn't really what Lady is about. It's about how the war - and disagreements over it - impact the lives of three friends.
Two men, waiting to be met by a third, are in a hunting preserve. Kenny, who has a wife and kids waiting at home, doesn't want to talk (or even think about) politics. He wants to just have one morning like it was back in the old days - hunting with his two buddies (and his dog). Dyson disagrees. Their third friend, Graham, said something disturbing the other night, and it is important to Dyson that Kenny step up and side with him against Graham. At one point, Kenny asks if their friendship actually depends on his answer - and Dyson thinks it might.
Things become clear when Kenny and Dyson are joined by Graham, who is briefly visiting his childhood home. Graham is now a congressman (Dyson ran his campaign), and it is vitally important to Dyson that Graham's opinion in favor of the war be changed. It's one thing to disagree with the guy down the street, but Graham is now what Dyson describes to Kenny as "your finger on the trigger of the biggest gun there's ever been."
There's more to it than that - and, actually, the "more" is where Lady is at its best. Lady isn't particularly persuasive when Dyson is shouting at Graham that America should have just waited after 9/11 - but when Kenny's dog is accidentally shot and Kenny blames himself for bringing the innocent creature "in the line of fire," it doesn't take a genius to see that Wright isn't just talking about the death of a dog. Wright is infinitely better when he talks about the war by having his characters talk about something else.
The performances are strong, drawing realistic yet slightly stereotypical characters. Matt Kirkwood's turn as Kenny is the highlight. Kenny's reluctance to take sides is the personification of American apathy. (When Dyson and Graham stop arguing long enough to say, "You are America, Kenny," it gets a huge laugh that verges on spontaneous applause.) But Kenny - although he's clearly the slowest of the three - does have opinions and feelings, and Kirkwood's reactions when Kenny thinks the other two are steam rolling over him are something that should serve as a lesson for politicians everywhere. Shawn Michael Patrick's Dyson spends the first scene of the play patiently trying to coax an opinion out of Kenny, and when he finally explodes with what has been troubling him, we can see why something about his delivery in that scene seemed a little less than genuine. Mark Doerr initially has Graham speak with the sort of quiet finality that comes from someone who knows he is in the position of power, but this rips away (a bit too early for my tastes) to reveal a man with a lot of anger.
Kudos to costume designer Mary Jane Miller for putting Graham in the brand new hiking boots and crisp hunting gear that would be worn by someone who doesn't actually belong here. Sound design by David B. Marling does a convincing job of creating the background sounds of the preserve, although the soft strains of Dire Straits mixing in during a key scene are an unwelcome distraction. Stephen Gifford's scenic design - the forest background appears on a wall of oversized dog tags - reminds us of what's at stake. Derrick McDaniel clearly has a lot of fun bathing the dog tags in red, green or gold lighting, but some of the light changes are not as gradual as they should be, and they jerk the viewer out of the story.
Lady can't possibly resolve an issue as complicated as America's involvement in Iraq in its 90-minute running time. It does, however, beautifully illustrate what happens when three lives that were once on the same path diverge and briefly cross again.
Lady runs at the Road Theatre Company in The Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood through June 14, 2008. For tickets and information, see www.roadtheatre.org.
The Road Theatre Company presents Lady by Craig Wright. Directed by Scott Alan Smith. Executive Producer Taylor Gilbert; Producers Kate Mines and Shannon Morris; Scenic Design Stephen Gifford; Lighting Design Derrick McDaniel; Costume Design Mary Jane Miller; Sound Design David B. Marling; Dialect Coach Linda de Vries; Original Music Jon Hanlin and Kenny Rudolph; Assistant Director Elizabeth Sampson; Stage Manager Maurie Gonzalez; Fight Choreographer Matthew Glave; Scenic Artist Michelle Carrier.