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Paulanne Simmons

Wars and More Wars

"The Steadfast"
Directed by Wes Grantom
Presented by Ken Greiner in association with Slant Theatre Project
TBG Theatre
312 West 36 Street
From Jan. 20, opening Jan. 23, 2013
Mon. thru Fri. at 8pm, Sat. at 2pm & 8pm, Sun. at 2pm (Jan 20 at 5pm & Feb. 3 at 12:30pm)
Tickets: $18 (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.om or visit www.slanttheatreproject.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan. 21, 2013

In Mat Smart’s new play “The Steadfast,” the author gives himself the formidable goal of documenting most of the major wars the United States has been involved in. This includes the war in Afghanistan, the war in Vietnam, the war in Korea, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War.

The war in Afghanistan features a young man who asks a female soldier to help him write to his girl back home. The female soldier has her own problems with a pacifist husband who does not approve of her decision to enlist after 9/11.

The Korean war is represented by a young man who enlists and then is afraid to tell his mother that he has killed people in the war (what did she think he was going to do, play pinochle?). For the conflict in Vietnam, the playwright chose to show us not soldiers but a group of draft dodgers making their way to Canada. The Spanish-American war (which features an ancestor of one of the draft dodgers) seems, for the most part, to be making a statement on the treatment of black soldiers.

The other wars are (thankfully) only touched on briefly. And for some reason world wars I and II are hardly mentioned at all. But Smart has quite enough material with the wars he focuses on, especially when you consider that he has cleverly interwoven all these stories in ways too complicated to explain in this review.

Smart‘s idea might have been promising for an epic novel, which might have been turned into an epic movie. But even with the excellent direction of Wes Grantom, who really understands how to move actors around the stage and make disparate scenes blend into each other, the play neither coheres nor interests.

The main problem is that Smart ‘s characters are symbols rather than real individuals: the grieving mother, the uninvolved father, the awkward soldier with the girl back home, the young man trying to live up to his father’s demands. They only interest us because of the situation Smart has put them in. All these people are types that only come to life in the hands of a skilled writer who gives them personal qualities and histories.

“The Steadfast” is performed by an ensemble cast of uneven talent. Susan Greenhill is a standout as the suffering mother who refuses to budge from the oak tree her son planted as a boy. Lighting designer Driscoll Otto also does his best to keep the play together, but it’s not enough.

“The Steadfast” seems to be the overly ambitious work of a young, talented writer who still has a lot to learn about his craft. Let’s see what he does next.

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