|Peggy Gannon and Ben McFadden in The Art of Bad Men (Shane Regan)|
The Art of Bad Men
Through October 17, 2015
We’re all pretty used to POW films focusing on how hard it is/was to be a prisoner as a U.S. soldier. We don’t usually get a focus on enemy soldiers, but the world premiere play at MAP Theatre, The Art of Bad Men, by local playwright Vincent Delaney, brings us a trio of German POWs held in the pasturelands of Minnesota!
The “art” mentioned in the title refers to the fact, a true story, that German POWs in that Minnesota prison camp put on a Moliere play while incarcerated there! I guess it was because they could, and to ward off the tedium and have something to do. The bad men are, by definition, the German soldiers. They are a trio of different kinds of men: a stalwart Nazi (Ben McFadden) trying to keep working on escaping and undermining their captivity, a musician who entertained the German soldiers and never saw real action (Ben Burris), and a boy recruited to the Nazi Youth – too young to know what the whole war was about (Sean Schroeder).
The soldiers are guarded by a not-very-good U.S. soldier (Brandon Ryan) who had to pull strings to be allowed to be a soldier at all. But then, where are these prisoners going to escape to? The rolling hills of Minnesota? How far can they run?
The local farmgirl (Grace Carmack) falls for the musician, though it’s likely that their relationship is doomed from the start. And the Nazi has an immigrant-Americanized sister (Peggy Gannon) who is disappointed in her brother’s acceptance of Hitler’s propaganda, while he denies her existence.
The entire experience of the evening is unified by director Kelly Kitchens’ ingenious staging, which includes choreographed scene changes with music, and fluid fun set pieces, like a bale of hay turned into a car! The show is at the old INS building, in the space known as INScape, and is set in the round. Many audience members are practically in the soldiers’ laps. It is a very intimate space.
The cast is uniformly solid and brings this unusual story to life with verve. Even so, while Delaney keeps us interested in the characters and their struggles, I continue to wonder whether this is a story that compels in the telling.
The story is true; the research that Delaney did included a trip to Germany to interview living ex-POWs, mirrored in the play; the idea that they put on a Moliere play as prisoners is startling (there is a real picture of them doing it). MAP Theatre does a bang-up job of presenting the play.
Before going, I worried that the subject matter would be dark and unpleasant. It is far more entertaining and even funny, at times, than I expected. Ultimately, it works as a piece of theater, even if the reasons for writing it are more obscure than Delaney might wish.
The technical aspects are quite wonderful also, from the inventive costuming by Jocelyne Fowler and the wonderful lighting touches by Tess Malone. The set by Brandon Estrella works to create the simple, stripped down barracks.