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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

ReEntry: US Marine Iraqi Vets and their Families

Also see Bob's reviews of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill and Augusta

ReEntry
PJ Sosko, Bobby Moreno
and Sheila Tapia

Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez, the authors of ReEntry, the theatre piece receiving its world premiere at the flexible (currently 99 seat) second stage of the Two River Theatre, have compiled their script from interviews conducted surreptitiously with "hundreds" of Marines who served in Iraq and their families. After conducting their interviews, the authors chose to include only nine interviewees in their resulting work. As some of the US Marines interviewed are still on active military duty (some apparently continue to volunteer for repeated tours in Iraq), Ackerman and Sanchez have altered names and dates in order to protect them from retaliation by their superiors for their participation.

Furthermore, the authors assure us that they have assiduously avoided shaping the material to advocate any personal political agenda in an attempt to illuminate what it was like for Iraqi combat veterans to return to society during the last eight years. And, darn if they have not been true to their assurance as they focus in on a respectful, sympathetic portrayal of ordinary veterans (and their families) who have endured what can only be tepidly imagined by those of us who have not been subject to like experiences.

Despite film and video projections, including live ones of the performers, and the inclusion of banners and a modicum of prop-like scenery, this is essentially a black box production in which five actors portray nine or so roles. During the course of the one act, eighty-five minute ReEntry, the actors move in and out of their various roles. Some of the interview material seems divided up in an attempt to create counterpoint and a dramatic continuity to events described as they relate to the four members of one family whose lives comprise the greater part of the text. However, other roles seem arbitrarily placed, disrupting the main narrative flow.

Each actor has a principal role among the parts that he or she plays. Joseph Harrell's principal role is that of the Commanding Officer who presents his views on the trauma of combat and having to perform the unnatural, foreign task of killing other young soldiers as he does in preparing family members to deal with returning combatants. The CO also outlines the steps which he believes our soldiers inevitably have to pass through in order to cope with their combat roles. The largest roles for each of the other actors are the members of one, I would think, working class family. They are Charlie (Bobby Moreno) and his brother John (PJ Sosko), both enlistees who re-up for additional combat tours, their "Mom" (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris), and their sister Liz (Sheila Tapia). As directed by co-author KJ Sanchez, this is a strong ensemble which, in the tradition of US Marine families, performs all of the roles with a sense of determination and backbone emerging from the fear, anger, confusion and pain which enter into each portrayal.

ReEntry's presentational interview format does not provide sufficient character detail, interaction and conflict for full-fledged drama. On the other hand, the authors make it clear that there are no widespread implications to be drawn from their tiny handful of marines and their families. Furthermore, despite all the yeoman effort that has gone into this project, the expressions of fear, guilt, pride, ambivalence and confusion from the veterans and their families can hardly be considered fresh.  The strongest, most dramatic conclusion that could be drawn from the stories at hand is that the fiercely unique experience of combat unites veterans and alienates them from the rest of us. The implication is that this accounts for why so many re-enlist for combat.

ReEntry is sometimes confusing. At times, I was uncertain as to which role an actor might be playing as well as to how many different soldiers were portrayed over the course of the play. Add the crosscutting of interviews, and it can become difficult to follow the trajectory of the emotional state of the interviewees. At a pre-performance discussion, co-author-director KJ Sanchez stated that she was seeking audience feedback as she and Ackerman further develop the world premiere ReEntry. That is an invitation that budding dramaturges may find irresistible.

ReEntry continues performances (Eves: Wednesday-Saturday 8 :30 PM /Matinees: Wednesday 1;30 PM; Saturday & Sunday 3:30 PM) through February 15, 2009 at the Two River Theatre Company, 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank, NJ 07701. Box Office: 732-345-1400; online: www.trtc.org.

ReEntry by Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez; directed by KJ Sanchez

Cast
Commanding Officer………………….Joseph Harrell
Mom……………………….Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris
Charlie…………………………………….Bobby Moreno
John………………………………………………PJ Sosko
Liz……………………………………………..Sheila Tapia


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- Bob Rendell



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