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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
STICKS AND BONES
at Pershing Square Signature Center

BENEATH THE SURFACE
By BILL STEVENSON

  Ben Schnetzer, Raviv Ullman, Bill Pullman and Holly Hunter/ Ph: Monique Carboni

The Vietnam War may be a distant memory to most Americans, a long and unpopular conflict that most of us would rather forget. The New Group’s deeply unsettling production of David Rabe’s powerful 1971 play will remind audiences of the personal price and long-lasting repercussions of war. Director Scott Elliott has assembled an ideal cast to dig into the many layers of this disturbing anti-war drama.
 
The action doesn’t take place on a battlefield but in a 1970s split-level house with charmingly dated furniture (nicely designed by Derek McLane). Think The Brady Bunch. But Rabe harkens back to an earlier, even more idyllic nuclear family for his searing satire. The man of the house is Ozzie (Bill Pullman), who proudly boasts of working on jeeps and trucks during World War II, and his doting wife is Harriet (Holly Hunter). She’s a happy homemaker, constantly vacuuming or whipping up fudge. Their younger son is the relentlessly chipper Rick (Raviv Ullman), who enjoys strumming his guitar and leaves the room at the first hint of any unpleasantness.
 
Ozzie and Harriet are thrilled to learn that their older son Dave (Ben Schnetzer) is coming home from Vietnam. But after he’s dropped off by a callous sergeant (Morocco Omari), Dave has a hard time readjusting to home life. The fact that he’s blind is just one hurdle. He’s also haunted by the memory of his Vietnamese lover, Zung (Nadia Gan). Much as Ozzie, Harriet and Rick would like things to go back to the way they were, Dave has been damaged by war and makes life uncomfortable for everyone. Eventually, Ozzie begins to wonder if the much-altered Dave is really his son and suggests having him fingerprinted. Both parents casually refer to Vietnamese as “yellow people” and “animals.” Even their seemingly genial priest, Father Donald (Richard Chamberlain), uses the term “yellow whore.” Xenophobia is just one of the unpleasant sides of the outwardly perfect all-American family in Rabe’s lacerating portrait.
 
Pullman has the most demanding role and once again proves what a fine stage actor he is. Last year he was compelling as a creepy bartender in Beth Henley’s The Jacksonian, another New Group production. Now he’s even better as a gung-ho family man who refuses to change his views on war. Hunter is also perfect as the dutiful wife and mother who tries to patch over any unpleasantness with snacks or prayers. Schnetzer, who was wonderfully charismatic in the recent British film Pride, shows his range in his moody, angry performance as the troubled young vet. As his upbeat brother, Ullman is suitably peppy and upbeat, contributing some much-needed humor. Chamberlain, still handsome and suave, makes Father Donald so smooth that he’s uninterested in Dave’s messy problems.
 
Sticks and Bones won the Tony Award for best play in 1972 but understandably upset many audience members. In the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, this heartbreaking anti-war drama still hits home. Elliott also directed New Group’s terrific staging of Rabe’s Hurlyburly in 2005. Let’s hope the company and the director bring back more Rabe plays in future seasons. 

 


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