In this sprawling, unfocused anti Vietnam War, why does God allow such things if God exists at all play written by James L. Larocca and directed by Donya K. Washington there are far more characters than needed to flesh out the story that takes place in 1968-9 in Southeast Asia and California. In fact, two actors act merely as props as they say not a word. A third character is unnecessary and adds little to the story.
The story being the relationship between disillusioned patient Tim Riordan (Scott Raker) who has slit his wrists for unknown reasons and is recovering in California under the guidance of therapist Dr. Leona Kaufman (Jacqueline Gregg) who is trying to discover those unknown reasons and his relationship with fellow fighter Richard “Luke” DeLuca (Peter Sabri) who he meets while on a break from the war in Penang where they spend five eventful days together sightseeing (with guide Jimmy Chen – Kurt Uy), partying and getting to know each other in more ways than either one of them ever bargained for.
It is the unlocking of Tim’s memory by the use of Hypnotherapy that we discover what happened to the budding relationship between Tim and Luke (who feels guilty that he is simply the Rec Officer in charge of making men feel better about fighting) and the repercussions that resulted in Tim’s attempted suicide.
It is stressed over and over again that for those at war friendship is the most important thing between two men. That they are there for each other. To take care of each other. Also that war is a waste for both sides involved. And that if you survive be thankful to God but if you happen to be wounded or worse do not blame him. Nothing new or original here. It’s all been said before.
Scott Raker as Tim spends most of the time looking shell shocked and we feel little compassion for him. Peter Sabri brings some humor to his role but is off putting, bringing to mind Jerry Lewis in a serious part. The essential attraction to each other is absent and so we do not get the camaraderie between the two that leads to the tragic ending.
Chris LaPanta is Lt. Jake Wyman, Tim’s likable commanding officer. He does a fine job. He is natural and we believe him and in him. With a little more volume he might just be the best in the production.
An imposing Jeffrey Evan Thomas in a brief appearance in Act II gets to play the “killing machine” roommate of Luke who appears raping a young girl who is one of the silent actors (Andrea Chen).
There is a lot of other stuff going on with a Buddhist Monk (Ray Chao) and a smarmy Hindi Mystic (Rushi Kota). And water which makes the stage dangerously slippery. I only wish the play had not tried to do so much and was more centered on the story of Tim and Luke and his Doctor. That would have been compelling theatre.
Through Nov. 22nd at Workshop Mainstage Theater 312 West 36 St 4th floor. Tickets $18.00 Advisory: Penang bares it all.