Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Draft

By Amy Wittenbergerthe draft by amy wittenberger

Directed by Courtney Miller

At Gorilla Tango

Weak acting and lame script makes The Draft crash and burn

Amy Wittenberger’s premise that the USA, after a devastating depression, is so over populated that the citizens vote for the federal government to institute a draft to thin out the population. We meet Tristan (Jon Penick) and Cora (Sophie Amoss), a couple applying for permission to have a child since “Big Brother” now controls every facet of life in 2042 America.  These chilling scenes remind us of Orwell’s 1984 but without the menace.

Tristan and Marlon (Kevin Alves) are two government employees charged with facilitating and physically removing (if necessary) those unlucky enough to be selected to be executed since their ‘draft’ number has been selected by a computer program.  We witness them almost gently remove a young man who screams and fights (just a little) before being forcibly removed for death.  There is a blaze sense to this premise that doesn’t right with truth. Tristan and Marlon come off as average people completely devoid of feeling.  They refer to their jobs as something that was voted on–therefore it is alright to find, arrest and execute folks in order to thin out the herd.  Their lack of conscious doesn’t ring true and when Tristan’s wife is selected, Tristan’s reaction is tepid reaching only a mild stage of anger.  He doesn’t request an explanation from his superiors–he only runs home and gets Cora to pack so they can run away.  Cora seems much too resigned to her fate. The couple lacks the degree of rage, fear and heighten emotions that surly most would feel if their number was selected for death. Add the fact that Tristan’s job makes him exempt from being selected. It is never made clear if that is also true of a spouse or sibling–and– Tristan never bothers to find out. Da!

The final scene at Marlon’s house, just before the government agents arrive, show Cora resigned to her fate with Tristan also resigned to her demise. Marlon had to report them since it is his job–and we all voted for the draft. Da!

The last sad scene shows Cora just before her injection with Tristan comforting her. Da! This script never takes into account  that most people, especially those in love would research, argue, escape and fight to their last breath before giving in to such arbitrary public policy. History is filled with stories of heroic action against such subtle cruelty.

This production also suffers from blandly unemotional acting especially from Jon Penick who plays Tristan his trouble as if he just got a parking ticket–devoid of emotional rage. The three person masked Greek chorus only added a stylized absurdity that should have been moved toward the main characters.  Where is the rage, the fight and the human spirit in these characters? If anyone would as easily give his loved one as Tristan does for the good of society–then we have lost our humanity to Big Brother. Amy Whittenberger’s play denies the power of the human spirit. We are not robots yet. This  one hour, one act needs to be much more ‘dramatic’ and emotional.

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

At Gorilla Tango, 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL,, tickets $10, Tuesdays at 8 pm, running time is 60 minutes without intermission, through September 1, 2009

2 thoughts on “The Draft

  • Ben Jonson

    Jonson wrote “Cut men’s throats with whisperings”. The Draft whispers and whispers pretty well…it characters are resigned from start to finish…they are molded by a society that places a premium on obedience because the majority has spoken. It would be easy to have the protagonists engage in hystrionics–see Heston in Soylent Green–or dash about in an flashy escape–see Logan’s Run–but I think Ms. Wittenberger’s lesson is that societies may exist in the future (and indeed now) where their sleep-walking populace just meanders along, in a drug-like trance, following the rules, where crises and “bad things” are explained by some vague majority vote–the Democratic Republic of the Congo may be a footnote.
    These characters are indeed devoid of feeling. But that is the point; they are so devoid in fact that they are robots of a sort—so conditioned and so mice-like that they simply accept…everything. The Greek chorus and the bureaucrats are equally automatic–and that is what the play conveyed to me…Chicago in 2042 is a pretty lousy place—Tom Williams is right on that–everyone has lost his spunk, his verve– sounds like some parts of the inner city in 2009….it certainly sounds like Brazzaville after the recent elections.
    We live in a time when many people feel –and, indeed are–powerless–yes, even in this country, and thus choose not to fight. That is what The Draft is about, Ms. Wittenberger and Ms. Miller portrayed that very, very well.
    This wasn’t a health care town hall where protests run at a fever pitch…the play and the directing conveyed a hopeless society, where the audience, but not the characters, wants to demand a recount—familiar overtones in our own age. Tom is right… history is full of “heroic action against subtle cruelty”, but history is equally full of lamentable indifference in the face of injustice.
    This work has much of the essence of small theater–dealing with the fringe, the edge of human possibilities; exploration of 2042’s mesmerized sheep—…did I like the characters–no; but I was very glad they didn’t turn out to be heroes…I would have liked them less.
    The writing was effective, the directing was quite good and the actors, who are young– and while one could quibble with their delivery and fault their polish–made Ms. Wittenberger’s point.

  • Janice Keller

    Maybe the writing went over your head. The point was that they were brainwashed. People only fight when they feel they are being wronged. At the end of the play, Cora realizes that she in fact voted for The Draft and that she is not unique in any way.
    I would highly recommend this play. While short, it got the point across very well.
    As for the actors, they are young, but everyone has to start somewhere. From my point of view, they all did an excellent job given their experience.

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