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Theatre Review by James Wilson - October 6, 2023

Matt Labotka, Robert Maisonett, and Kyle Minshew
Photo by Ashley Garrett
William R. Duell's Honor, now running at A.R.T./New York Theatres, shows that PTSD can take many different forms. While there have been a fair number of plays and films that show the debilitating effects of trauma on survivors of war, sexual violence, and child abuse, Honor focuses on the mental anguish that may affect not just the victims but also the heroes.

Trotter Daniels (Kyle Minshew) is by all accounts a regular guy. When he is caught up in a mass shooting in Midtown Manhattan, however, he summons superhuman characteristics. Amidst the carnage, he scoops up two small children in his arms and exhorts a third to get on his back and hold on tightly as he tries to flee the bloodied intersection. While two of the children are saved and Trotter is shot in the legs, the child on his back is killed, and presumably, his small body shielded the savior from a fatal bullet.

One year later, Trotter is dealing with the overwhelming physical and psychological effects from the incident that has received national attention. His leg wounds are infected, and he has sunk into a deep, debilitating despair. His husband Luke (Robert Maisonett) is at his wit's end, and he has tried everything from showering him with love to giving him space for himself. His mother (Donna Lee Michaels) has also endeavored to get through to him, and she lives in fear that he may take his life.

Trotter's therapist Sarah (Shauna Bloom) has been supremely ineffectual in pulling Trotter out of his despondency. All appears hopeless. Building on a notion that PTSD loves company, Sarah and Luke hatch a scheme that might draw out Trotter's natural compassion, thereby helping someone else in need. This in turn, they suppose, would lead to Trotter's own recovery.

Posing as Luke's second cousin, Sarah's husband Matt (Brian Reilly), a former marine who is dealing with his own traumatic experience from a tour in Afghanistan, becomes Trotter's houseguest while Luke takes a vacation. Rather than establishing a natural bond, the two men bring out the violent tendencies in each other. The apartment has become a battleground.

Rounding out the cast is a police officer (Mat Labotka), who serves as the play's deus ex machina.

Directed by Gerald vanHeerden, the actors turn in fine performances, and I admit to getting a little teary at the sentimental climax in the developing bromance. In general, though, the play, even with its multiple trigger warnings about its use of gunfire sounds and depiction of physical and psychological violence, is surprisingly unaffecting. First, the main character is completely unlikeable and cruel. We are told throughout that he used to be a kind and affable man, but there are not even glimmers of that in the character we encounter. He is so mean and off-putting, one wonders why his husband, mother, and therapist would not just have him committed to full-time professional help.

Even more questionable is the therapist's use of trickery by employing her own husband in the ruse. She assures him (and by extension, us) that there is nothing unlawful about the conceit. Still, her actions raise all kinds of ethical questions, and worse, dramaturgically, it does not pass the smell test.

Another problem is that the production attempts to literalize the traumatizing flashbacks by placing the characters in their moments of horror. Accompanied by loud noises and unconvincing voiceovers (with sound design by Liz Howell), the atrocities are minimized and verge on the ludicrous. (John Lant designed the lighting that helps convey the shifting physical and psychological locales, and Antonio DiBernardo's scenic design and Everett Clark's costumes are efficient.) As the Ancient Greek playwrights demonstrate, horrific acts of violence have more resonance when they are recounted and left to the audience's imagination.

Honor addresses several pertinent issues, including the effects of PTSD, the benefits of behavioral psychology, expressions of manhood, and personal accountability. Regrettably, these are subsumed in alternating heavy-handed and baffling set ups.

Through October 29, 2023
Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at A.R.T./New York Theatres, 502 West 53rd Street
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