|Sylvester Kamara and Conner Neddersen in 9 Circles (John Ulman)|
Strawberry Theatre Workshop
Through June 25, 2016
Playwright Bill Cain is also a Jesuit priest. This combination of background allows his compassion for everyone to be written into the complex stories that he presents on stage. A real life story about a young man with a probable personality disorder who is accused of raping and killing a 14-year-old Afghan girl and her family prompted the writing of 9 Circles.
Strawberry Theatre Workshop is presenting a taut and exciting production starring Conner Neddersen as Pfc Daniel Edward Reeves. Reeves echoes the circumstances of Pvt Steven Green (convicted in 2009) in real life. Neddersen gives the role everything he’s got, which is considerable. His character is tense, he is wary, he absorbs everything fed to him and feeds it back appropriately. It’s a brilliant portrayal in a whip-smart play.
The story unfolds carefully in small bits of information as Pfc Reeves is interrogated or interviewed for his trial by lawyers, counselors, and Army personnel. We learn that this young man was completely unsuited for Army life, but that recruiters, under immense pressure from their higher-ups to fill quotas, gloss over or waive qualifiers in order to allow this dangerous, mentally unstable boy to enter the Army.
At first Reeves is honorably discharged for having a personality disorder, but afterward he is charged with murder. It seems that the Army wants to have its cake and eat it, too.
It’s clear that Cain accuses the military and the political establishment feeding a war machine of fostering the danger that this young soldier posed to an Afghan family. He walks the audience into the system that could create such a situation while helping us understand how a young man could end up justifying such a horrific act.
It’s not “fun” to watch or become a part of this play, but it’s vital. It’s fascinating. It’s necessary to understand “our” part, if we as Americans have to choose how to support the various undeclared wars our country is involved in. Strawshop’s choice, director Greg Carter’s choice, is a masterful one that fulfills what theater can mean to society.
The play is performed without an intermission and is about 105 minutes long, so be aware that it’s a bit of a stretch. I think that Cain’s last few minutes of script is not only completely unnecessary, but also takes the audience off the hook, which is a shame. But up to the last five minutes, it is everything a play about this topic should be. (In essence, Cain tells us whether what we’ve seen is true or not, and I think the ambiguity is much more powerful.)
Neddersen is joined by a trio of strong actors: Norah Elges, Sam Hagen and Sylvester Kamara. The staging is simple with lighting by Reed Nakayama being a key element.
Especially in light of attacks like Orlando’s, where ideology mixes with mental instability, we should be paying attention to understanding the complex melding of such ideas. Through honest exploration, solutions can be advocated for more completely. Kudos to Strawshop for picking this great play.