Directed by Beth Wolf
Produced by Promethean Theatre Ensemble
At The Artistic Home, Chicago
Dated and trite ant-war farce bombs
Try as they may to update Irwin Shaw’s first play from 1936 with contemporary Army uniforms and 21st Century details, Bury The Dead simply fizzles as an anti-war drama. The work is like a one note music score that repeats it’s one theme over and over again to the point of absurdity that quickly leads to tedium. The cast of 17 players unevenly move from realism to surrealism to farce as the work drones on .
The story finds the USA in the second year of a war and a group of six dead soldiers inexplicably stand up and refuse to be buried. What to do? Their Captain (Ben Veatch) asks the General for orders. The General (the hyper Jim Morley) tells the Captain to order the men to let themselves be buried – after all- what would happen to warfare if soldiers continued to defy being buried and as the first stage toward being forgotten? What will happen to the business of war if this continues? What will happen to troop morale if news of this gets out? The press agrees, for a while, to sit on “the story of the century” because “in time of war, people have the right to know nothing.”
Are they really dead? After a doctor certifies that each of the six are in fact dead so the General berates they to let the Army bury them. They silently refuse. A priest tries exorcism, their Captain engages them in a philosophical discussion – to no avail. A live soldier sings flat-sounding folk tune to sooth the dead troops. The frustrated General ponders what to do as the entire nations gravitates to the story. Eventually, the loved ones of the six are brought to the battlefield burial site to coax the dead to let go and be buried. Each get to state their demands and regrets – one states: “I’m only 20, I hadn’t done anything, I hadn’t seen anything, I never even had a girl.” Another soldier argues with his selfish wife while another pontificates on the irrationality of war. Each have their say.
This cliche ridden script beats to death the reluctance of the six troopers to be buried and it papers the 90 minute show with absurd responses from the military, the public and the soldier’s families that offer no new insights into the waste of lives that is all too obvious in war. There have been many finer plays that cover the horror and futility of war so I’m wondering what made such a fine theatre company as Promethean Theatre Ensemble select such a thin, dated and simplistic script? Director Beth Wolf has the General portrayed as an over-the-top buffoon while others seem to be quite calm. The speeches by the dead seem too much like “playwright speak” rather than words young soldiers would utter. The acting was spotty and the tone was weird mixture of expressionist drama and satirical farce. I could not find enough stage worthiness in this show to warrant a recommendation. Since Promethean Theatre Ensemble has mounted many excellent shows, they are allowed one ill advised show.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: April 23, 2011
For full show information, go to the page for Bury the Dead at TheatreinChicago.
At The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL, call 1-800-838-3006, www.prometheantheatre.org, tickets $20, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 90 minutes with intermission, through May 21, 2011