George Street Playhouse’s latest production is Christopher Demos-Brown’s “American Hero” and it is a searing domestic ‘Apocalypse Now,’ about privilege, honor, honesty, and how our country treats of veterans. And it is a truly memorable experience.
This is a story that has a thousand parallels–a service team in Iraq, Marines and Army, perform a joint operation based on information they obtained. Rob (Armand Schultz) is a disabled American Veteran. This ex-Marine is confined to a wheelchair, divorced, and raising his daughter Shawn (Kally Duling), who is planning to leave shortly for the Air Force Academy. Shawn comes home to find Mary (Laiona Michelle) lounging and snacking in the living room. Mary, an Army corporal who served with Shawn’s father in the incident that wounded him, is a diamond in the rough and an amazing human being, whose role in Rob’s survival is repeatedly acknowledged by him during application process he goes through for the Congressional Medal, which he ultimately receives. John Bolger plays Captain and Others, but in a literal sense, he is Every Man.
Demos-Brown’s play, under David Saint’s direction, taps into a wellspring of intellect and emotion and the cognitive dissonance that war creates. At the time this play was selected, there was not a game of brinksmanship going on between the Oval Office and North Korea, yet now we find ourselves facing a situation that may require the very same kind of pyrrhic nobility this country asks of all of our veterans, from the Revolutionary War to present conflicts, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and more. Ultimately, on every soldier’s return home, the human toll is very, very high.
Jason Simms sets and Christopher J. Bailey’s lighting designs create a tremendous sense of the intellectual landscape as well as a physical one. Behind Rob and Shawn’s sparse living room furniture looms a decaying, blasted building that is real and metaphorical both. Scott Killian’s sound design brings us in from the get-go and Rick Sordelet’s fight sequences give us the bitter, bloody flavor of being there.
Among the all-star cast, Michelle particularly stands out. She has the blood and fire of someone who was able to use her skills for the country she loves, only to feel the bitter betrayal by a system that was never designed to support her as a soldier, even as it aggrandizes less-skilled soldiers with more connections. We never know what we truly have, or do not, until a moment happens that takes the scales from our eyes and we can see with a clear gaze and often that moment is tragic.
This is the best of must-see theatre. After the final moments of the show, after the pregnant silence, we stood up almost as one to give a thundering ovation to the cast, and especially Michelle. Uncharacteristically, as the audience filed out of the theatre, we were lost in our own thoughts, swirling contemplation of what we all just experienced. This will take some time to unpack. This is part of a planned trilogy and I look forward very much to meeting Demos-Brown’s next American.
This play is running through February 25. What a great gift for the love of your life or bestie, an evening of thought provoking, deeply affecting theatre–it is a gift that lasts a lifetime. Get your tickets before they’re gone at www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org