By Susan Felder
Directed by William Brown
At Timeline Theatre
Riveting 100 minutes of suspenseful drama leave you in wonderment
Who would think that a female actor/director could write a play about Vietnam? But Susan Felder sure did and its a terrific gritty war drama. With a swiftly paced intensity and loads of suspense, Wasteland unfolds as a riveting two-hander upon an awesome set (by Kevin Depinet) that depicts an American solder, circa 1972 captured by the VC and isolated in an underground cave. We meet Joe (Nate Burger) as he struggles to survive after six months of captivity. Joe’s living quarters are in a small cave with a large hole skyward but no chance of escape.
Suddenly, Joe detects that another soldier has entered the hole next door. Despite not being able to see the new arrival, Joe can heard and talk to him. Riley is Joe’s opposite in many ways. Joe is a “Northerner,” Riley is a “good-old-boy” from Texas. Joe questions his and America’s involvement in Vietnam; Riley is a true unquestioning patriot. Joe is a draftee, Riley enlisted to fight communism. The are opposites on many things: Joe like pop/rock, Riley country music; Riley has a girlfriend; Joe give off gay interests as he talks of his now departed best friend “Coconuts, ” a fellow soldier who inadvertently got Joe captured with a “Boy Scout” act of bravery.
The two soldiers exchange many things from songs to personal beliefs to sharp exchanges of personal differences as they form a mutual bond of interdependency. Their needs and exchanges of human connections fuels their need to keep going as the boredom and fear of the future looms heavily on each. The connections made especially through their arguments produced some rich and raw humor. They draw together to meet each’ s emotional needs as they both struggle to survive in their dire conditions.
This show builds suspense to the point that we are on the edge of our seats in anticipation of what will happen next. We so empathize with Joe and Riley that we feel tension as their struggle continues over the months that lead to years. We see both Joe and Riley move from light-hearten humor to heart wrenching despair as each takes their turn bucking up the spirit of the other. It is Joe who clearly is the stronger of the two but his humanness contains bouts of despair. Both suffer form loneliness and lack of physicality. Ultimately, Joe and Riley reach back into their character to affirm the power of human connection. We see these two ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances exude the finest of human spirit through their unearthing of hope in even the darkest hours.
Susan Felder has a knack for male dialogue and she has Vietnam Era military lingo down pat while still capturing the basic humanity of her characters. Nate Burger gave a most honestly truthful performance as he bravely demonstrates how a soldier survives in horrible conditions. Steve Hahaggard has a tough assignment relating to Burger’s Joe since he is blind to him (and to the audience). Getting stage chemistry and timing between the two is difficult but these two skilled talents deftly navigate the territory.
You’ll be on the edge of your seat throughout this most rivetingly powerful drama. It reaffirms our basic belief in the power of the human spirit. We see how human connection propels hope even in the darkest hours. You’ll be moved and shaken by this ode to humanity; you’ll be stirred to your core, and you’ll be uplifted by this work. Wasteland is a gem.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: October 18, 2012
For more info checkout the Wasteland page at theatreinchicago.com
At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, Chicago, IL, call773-281-8463, www.timelinetheatre.com, Tickets $32 -$42, Wednesdays 7 Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 1 hour, 40 minutes without intermission, through December 30, 2012