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Potomac Stages

Home of the Brave

Director Benjamin Fishman uses modern theatrical technology to enhance an already powerful theatrical property as his Washington Jewish Theatre and the American Century Theater join forces for their first co-production. "Multi-media" techniques such as filmed images projected on the back wall, full stereo sound environments, pre-recorded dialogue and high-impact lighting effects can enhance a strong play or camouflage the problems in a weak one. Of course, when improperly used, they can harm a good play. Here they strengthen the theatricality of a piece that could have been a bit static and preachy in less capable hands.

Storyline: A Jewish soldier is part of a five man squad sent behind the Japanese lines during World War II where the traumatic events of battle trigger a psychosomatic paralysis. The play is presented as a flashback during treatment in a battlefield hospital.

This World War II combat play was the first major dramatic work by Arthur Laurents who went on to give us West Side Story, Gypsy and the movies The Way We Were and The Turning Point. It was and is remarkable for the sophistication of its view of the psychological damage that combat can do, and for the complexity of the relationships between the six characters (five soldiers and a doctor). Unlike so many "male bonding" movies of recent vintage, the five soldiers do not form a relationship so strong that it overcomes their individual incompatibilities. Most notably, the anti-Semite remains anti-Semitic. Laurents has his characters grow and learn and mature – but they don’t overcome all of their imperfections and they don’t reform completely.

The cast of young actors is a particularly strong group. Michael Laurino as the soldier who looses the use of his legs as a result of psychic injuries, and Tim Getman as a soldier with different wounds are particularly noteworthy. Getman has a marvelous scene in Act II with Richard J. Price as the officer in charge of the mission behind the lines. Jon Cohn does impressive work in the dual role of the doctor treating Laurino’s character and his best friend in the unit. Each have given impressive performances on Potomac Region stages in recent months (Cohn in A Life in the Theatre at Source, Getman in The Chosen at Theater J, Price in Rorschach Theatre Company’s J.B. and Laurino in The Muckle Man at Source). A newcomer to the area, Arthur J. G. Rosenberg, more than holds his own as he makes more of his role than just a symbol of bigotry.

The multi-media aspects of the production are effective if uneven. Daniel Schrader’s sound design is wonderful from the bird sounds that are almost inaudible but set the feel of the place before the show begins, through the sounds of combat that surround the audience in the second act. He takes full advantage of a quality sound system to produce for the audience some of the feeling of being encircled that is affecting the soldiers on stage. Marc A. Wright’s set is workable and his lighting design is particularly impressive. But the video elements of the "multi-media" are too dimly projected to be fully effective.

Written by Arthur Laurents. Directed by Benjamin Fishman. Design: Marc A Wright (set and lights) Daniel Schrader (sound) Michele Reisch (costumes) Branbox Productions, Inc (video.) Cast: Michael Laurino, John Cohn, Richard J. Price, Arthur J. G. Rosenberg, Tim Getman.

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The Gazette

WJT's 'Home of the Brave' an interesting experiment

by Susan Berlin
Feb. 20, 2002

Washington Jewish Theatre produces plays with a connection to the American Jewish experience, while American Century Theater rediscovers less familiar 20th-century American plays. Their current joint production is both: Arthur Laurents' 1945 psychological war drama, "Home of the Brave."

The production is absorbing to watch, probably because of the nature of the staging as much as the script. As written, it's the sort of earnest, realistic drama that could seem dated if it were presented straightforwardly ­ a play in which one character can say, without irony, "I'm a psychiatrist, not a clairvoyant," before explaining the process of drug-assisted hypnosis to another character in an expository scene.

Director Benjamin Fishman's take on the script is less literal, more expressionistic and interesting. He uses dreamlike, sometimes hallucinatory video projections designed by Brainbox Productions Inc. of Silver Spring, and exaggerated sound effects, to bring the disorientation of the central character to the audience.

Groundbreaking in its time, "Home of the Brave" confronts anti-Semitism in the Army during World War II, as an Army psychiatrist (Jon Cohn) attempts to break through the hysterical paralysis and amnesia facing Pfc. Peter Coen, or "Coney" (Michael Laurino). Interestingly, when the play was filmed in 1949, the main character was changed from Jewish to African-American, because anti-Semitism was considered a passé subject by Hollywood at that time.

Coen is a smart man, but a lifetime of attacks because of his religion has left him distrustful of the men around him. One of them, T.J. (Arthur J.G. Rosenberg), really does come across as a bigot, but naïve Finch (Cohn), tough Mingo (Tim Getman) and the determined Major (Richard J. Price) have no problem with Coney's ethnicity.

While Laurino gives a full-bodied, affecting performance, some of the other actors don't seem as comfortable in their characters. Rosenberg is a convincing bully, but he doesn't look as mature or out-of-place as his character is supposed to be; T.J.'s resentment is fueled by the fact that he's a 35-year-old businessman taking orders from a 26-year-old major.

More troublesome is the double-casting of Cohn as the sweet-natured Finch and the worldly doctor. While Fishman's intention is clear, allowing Coney's memories to blur with his therapy, Cohn comes across as too youthful to convince as a doctor who's supposedly seen many traumatized soldiers.

"Home of the Brave" continues through March 3 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, 6125 Montrose Road, Rockville. Call 301-230-3775.

Go to The Gazette Online.

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