Play's debut worthy of a medal
Most Vietnam War dramatic literature thunders. Movies such as "Platoon," "Full Metal Jacket," "The Deer Hunter" and "Apocalypse Now" are jagged, loud, invasive. Stage treatments of the war replace on-location chaos with verbal intensity ("Streamers," "Tracers," "Sticks and Bones") or musical napalm ("Miss Saigon").
"Going After Cacciato," veteran playwright Romulus Linney's adaptation of Tim O'Brien's National Book Award-winning novel, is a quiet, dreamy reflection on Vietnam and other wars. We know this as soon as the first audio waves (designed by Julie Jalil, Brian White and Andrew Keating ) billow over Michelle Ney's island of suggestive scenery, spackled by Pip Gordon's lyrical lighting.
Given its world premiere at Texas State University, "Cacciato" comes with a simple premise. An undersized, mentally challenged soldier leaves his company, proposing to walk from Vietnam to Paris. That's right, France, more than 8,000 miles away. His comrades follow, at first intending to capture the AWOL grunt, but later lured into a shadowy world somewhere between fantasy and reality.
I have not read the book, but Linney's gentle stage rendition, interrupted by scenes of brutal intensity, takes some listening before initial engagement sets in. Luckily, director Charles Ney trusts the material and keeps his student cast from overplaying any scene. This is something of a miracle, because young actors tend to go for the most extreme interpretations in a war play.
John Stewart, Jud Farris, Matthew Albrecht and Forest Van Dyke lead this mature, modulated cast, but special notice should be paid to Alyson Laurel, who not only adds the sole female voice to the mix, but also honorably portrays a character of uncertain Asian origin. Beyond the leads, not a performance was out of place.
All this said, I did not feel emotionally invested until, oddly enough, the curtain call. The cast returned to the stage in hierarchical order, with verbal leader Stewart rightly in the final position. Then the cast did something strange. They turned to each other, as if a band of brothers (and sister), broke character to smile or grab an arm, swiveled their heads toward the audience, nodded slightly, fondly, then shuffled offstage. It was the most effective curtain call I've experienced in years, so modest and yet so wise, like the rest of this admirable production.
'Going After Cacciato'
When: 2 p.m. today
Where: Theatre Center, 601 University Drive, Texas State University-San Marcos
Information: (512) 245-2204