Using minimal theatrics and the testimony of real soldiers, “ReEntry” creates a stage document about an aspect of military life that few of us back home ever fully understand: the trials of reabsorption into the civilian world.
It’s a topic that’s treated quite often on TV and in movies and even lately on the stage, in the form of the thrilling Scottish war play “Black Watch.” But it’s useful to be immersed in the subject again, which “ReEntry” accomplishes with a heap of integrity and an admirable absence of helping-profession jargon.
The modest touring show, which stops at Round House Theatre in Bethesda through Sunday, gives the microphone to the fighting men and women themselves. The most surprising thing they tell us, perhaps, is that having to deal again with the everyday is not as wrenching as losing the intense comradeship forged in war; the central figures of “ReEntry,” a pair of brothers and Marines from Portland, Ore., are so inexorably changed by service in Iraq that, even though one of them is severely wounded in action, they both re-up for another tour.
“For us, it was leaving — having to leave our home, really, for the first time,” one of the play’s interviewees says, recounting the feeling of separation after having to move off a stateside Marine Corps base. That feeling was hard to communicate, even to family and friends. “They never got that that’s a very sad thing,” he says.
President Obama’s announcement last week that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is coming to an end certainly ratchets up the relevance of “ReEntry,” though the challenges facing the returning soldier seem as if they will be national concerns for years to come. The 90-minute play by Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez — both sisters of military veterans — consists of verbatim interviews with Marines who served in Iraq as well as with their close family members.
Five actors — Jessi Blue Gormezano, Brandon Jones, Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, Larry Mitchell and Ben Rosenblatt — play all of the roles; director Sanchez embellishes only a little, gently introducing some marching in formation, and projections by Alex Koch, to infuse the stage with a bit of atmosphere. The central thread weaves the voices of the brothers, John (Jones) and Charlie (Rosenblatt), with those of sister Liz (Gormezano), living in New York, and their divorced mother (Luqmaan-Harris) back in Portland.
The mother’s anxious vigil after Charlie calls to tell her he’s been wounded in a roadside bombing informs “ReEntry’s” most affecting subplot. As she explains, the policy is apparently to have injured soldiers make the first contact with loved ones if they are able, a most humane and reassuring way to allay a parent’s nightmare. It’s revealed, too, that the death of one of Charlie’s buddies in the attack prompts his mother to remain in touch with the dead soldier’s parents, a need for connection that inexplicably rattles the sister.
Of such complicated dynamics are the families of service members made. The mother also tells us that she becomes committed to paying a small, personal note of respect to every man and woman killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I read the names now,” she says, “because if it were my son’s I’d would want everyone to know. I would want everyone to read his name.”
The actors capably accomplish their mission; Luqmaan-Harris conveys the mother’s strength with particular acumen, and Mitchell excels in his interludes as a commanding officer speaking in an orientation session to parents whose children in the military are about to come home.
“ReEntry” doesn’t have anything like the wallop of a “Black Watch,” which also used soldiers’ own words but built an extraordinary infrastructure of theater magic in which to utter them. This piece addresses some of the same pressing social matters, and even if it’s not the most imaginative approach, the voices are those of people who need to be heard.
By Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez. Directed by Sanchez. Sets and costumes, Marion Williams; lighting, Russell Champa and Dani Clifford; sound, Zachary Williamson; projections, Alex Koch. About 90 minutes. Through Sunday at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda. Visit www.roundhousetheatre.org or call 240-644-1100. ($10 tickets for members of the military at all performances.)