Several years ago, we attended a profoundly moving revival of “Tracers,” which followed the lives of eight Vietnam soldiers who go from training, to combat “in-country,” and then back to “the world” a dozen years later, the impact of their wartime experiences playing out in soul-crushing ways.
Directed by playwright John DiFusco, “Tracers” touched a deep place within me, especially as I could identify with so many of the raw emotions and haunting images expressed on stage, down to seeing a bit of myself in the character of “Professor,” who spent his time reading Herman Hesse and Pirandello when he was back from patrol, much as I carried a thick volume of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake through the Mekong Delta, I forget just why—perhaps simply to take me away from the madness around me, at least for a few precious moments.
Friday night—Veterans Day—we attended another DiFusco production, “Everything In Between,” this one written by Rebecca Stahl in her first attempt at a full-length play, with DiFusco directing and appearing briefly along with a cast that included several military veterans.
The ties binding this latest play's characters unfold slowly over “In Between's” two acts, revealing that they are not just a set of people who mostly happen to interact in a barroom.
Like “Tracers,” this new play revolves around the damage combat does to the mostly young men—and now women—we send off to fight our nation's many wars. Unlike the earlier play, “In Between" focuses on four generations of veterans, scarred remnants from the Korean War, to Vietnam, to the Gulf War, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that we never seem to end.
Without the construct of fighting in a war together and then recovering separately, the ties binding this latest play's characters unfold slowly over “In Between's” two acts, revealing that they are not just a set of people who mostly happen to interact in a barroom—one that seems not so different from the bar down the hall in the American Legion Hall where the play is held and where a platoon of veterans were celebrating the day named in their honor that evening with pizza and mixed drinks.
At issue is a young Marine recently returned from the Iraq War, whose life unravels in increasingly worrisome ways. Well played by Jaimyon Parker, Porter can't find work, can't keep work when he finds it, can't reconcile to his father's passing, can't chase his ghosts away, and can't connect to his lovely and loving wife, Brooke, played by Tania Verafield, who has waited patiently as her husband was away fighting and now can't understand the edgy distance that has grown up between them.
Recommended for You
Around them is an Army psychiatrist named Chase (J. Kenneth Campbell), who is wrestling with his son's suicide as he attempts to help newly returned veterans, Curly (Campbell de Silva), who runs the bar where much of the action transpires, and Gertie (Caron Strong) who has burned out working on a veterans hotline. Supporting them are Fred Hirz (Martin), Karl Risinger (Hawkins), and Rachel Boller (Sophie)—who at one point stepped through the screen separating the audience to challenge me to take a swing at her drunken character. All characters are veterans as are many of the actors who play them.
Slowly through the first act, the tensions that bind and separate these characters come to light, revealing the pain most of them are trying to drown in alcohol or hide in mostly failed attempts at philandering. Action picks up after the intermission, as the veterans give word to their guilts and shames and secrets, healing themselves in a catharsis that was especially appreciated given the dreadful presidential election that had transpired in our real lives four days earlier.
Especially affecting are the scenes between Porter and Brooke, whose relationship becomes evermore precarious as the young Marine struggles with thoughts of suicide and a hair-trigger temper common to returning combat veterans. Chase, by turns a compassionate counselor, a reflexive lecher, and a practiced lush, carries many of the livelier exchanges with wit and humor and pathos. The entire cast pulls together nicely in bringing the playwright's first effort to the stage.
Currently, there is a Facebook connection among people who pledge to film themselves doing 22 pushups for 22 days in honor of the 22 veterans who commit suicide everyday in America, and who then“nominate" a Facebook friend to carry that torch. Much of “Everything In Between" revolves around this post-traumatic stress crisis.
The play's intricate staging deserves note, as one stage serves to represent the barroom and a second on the side representing Porter's and Brooke's apartment, with a space in between that serves as several nondescript offices where Porter applies for loans and jobs and counseling.
A special treat was the recorded music that carries the action along. Tom Waits' “The Heart of Saturday Night” stands out especially, perhaps covered by another artist.
[dc]“E[/dc]verything In Between” plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and 3 p.m. on Sundays through December 4, 2016. American Legion Hollywood Post 43, 2035 N. Highland Avenue, Hollywood. Tickets $25 (Military and veterans $15). Free parking onsite. For information and reservations, go here.