Friday, May 5, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Lauren Ferebee's The Reckless Season at TheaterLab NYC by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Lauren Ferebee's The Reckless Season at TheaterLab NYC was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Reckless Season
Written by Lauren Ferebee
Directed by Dominic D'Andrea
TheaterLab NYC
357 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10018
Reviewed 4/29/17

The Reckless Season stuck with me afterward in a different way than other plays I've seen recently. The production was solid all around, but it wasn't just those carefully orchestrated events on stage that kept me thinking about The Reckless Season. This play challenged me at a basic level to not fall into the same self-destructive cycles that the characters fell into, and I think it can affect anyone who views it in a similar way to a lesser or greater degree. Key characters delved into drug abuse to escape painful memories, and I internalized the message that drugs and alcohol aren't an escape - they're the curse. That internalization factor of potential viewers made the performances of the actors far more personal. The characters in The Reckless Season all had a nearly impossible time of dealing with normal life in different but related ways. As they continued to get in their own ways, the audience watched a loose social circle self-destruct. Seeing those escapist behaviors I sometimes recognize in me, my family and friends, reflected tenfold, tear apart the characters that acted on these impulses was a strong message.

The play develops in the aftermath of Terry (Trace Pope) and Simon's (Chase Burnett) mother's suicide. The mother, suffering from depression, loneliness, and drug abuse, kills herself with sleeping pills she bought from Flynn (Brian Morvant), a miscreant who targets veterans with pills and drugs that he offers as help to escape their nightmares. The two brothers are at odds from the start. At first glance, it seems like Simon, the soldier returning from the Middle East, is more put together than his video game obsessed younger brother, Terry. However, when confronted with the death of their mother and the reality of their estrangement, the illusory facade wipes away quickly. Terry works at a truck stop, has played the same unbeatable and outdated history game every day since his brother left for the army four years ago, and spends his late nights at that same truck stop when he feels alone. Trace Pope not only made it pretty convincing, he seemed like he had become the role. Chase Burnett was just as consumed by his character, Simon, who was somehow more socially disinclined than his younger brother. After seeing too much of the darker edge to warfare, his nightmares and the death of his mother trigger a quick descent into drugs and alcohol only stemmed by the voices of reason and anarchy that exist in the forms of Lisa (Amanda Tudor) and the aforementioned Flynn.

Lisa, another veteran with her own hangover from the war, works at the truck stop with Terry and recognizing his loneliness offers to accompany him to the cremation of Simon and Terry's mother. When she arrives, Simon confronts her, but he is given a taste of his own medicine as she grills him on abandoning his family and especially his younger brother Terry. Simon admits he could've done better, but as the two brothers attempt to reconcile through resuming domestic life, Simon begins to fall apart. While he makes valid attempts at resurrecting a relationship with his brother through having dinner at the table and watching him play his video game, he also literally smashes a beeping fire alarm with a hammer and walks around pulling gulps from the mouth of a bottle of vodka like a belligerent Russian on a drinking spree. We soon learn he also has been buying drugs from Flynn to help him sleep. As Simon descends, Terry begins to distance himself more, and when Terry goes to Lisa for friendship, he discovers what we already know: she too has been at the mercy of Flynn. While she was very good at giving advice, she couldn't follow it completely. Having become clean after becoming pregnant, one night when her husband is arrested, she calls Flynn up and we watch as she breaks her promises.

None of the characters is perfect. They are all having a hard time with themselves. However, Terry is technically clean of any direct guilt if your moral standards extend only so far as alcohol and drugs because he technically did nothing while his mother fell into oblivion. Flynn, in particular, struggles with the realization he isn't helping anyone as he always felt like he was one of the good guys. Terry lets him know no one really wants him around with a softly delivered line that leaves Flynn devastated, "You're the water" (and now I'm paraphrasing) that weighs down one's clothes after swimming in a lake. Flynn seeks out external validation for his existence from Simon and later Lisa who give him the message more directly. Simon literally knocks him unconscious when Flynn refuses to sell him drugs, and Lisa gets so agitated that her water breaks. Meanwhile, Terry is on a tear at this point, and when Simon asks him to go with him on an adventure to take their mother's ashes just about anywhere, Terry only replies, "I want you to leave." He only agrees to join when Simon promises that after the trip, he will never come back. This seems a little harsh from Terry who has been a non-participant in the relationship and didn't try to contact his brother throughout the war. We don't have a lot of time to mull it over though; the brother's soul searching adventure is interrupted by Flynn calling to ask Terry to come to the hospital at Lisa's request. As Lisa screams during childbirth and Terry argues with the doctors to see her despite not being kin, Simon drops the box with their mother's ashes spilling it all over the floor. Flynn tries to help him, but then Terry appears resulting in the final confrontation between brothers.

My overall reaction to this play is that it is worth seeing, but I am a little skeptical of some of the writing and of the characterizations. Having met veterans of almost every war the United States has fought in since 1941, I've never met any so incapable of dealing with their experiences. The Vietnam veterans in my family just never talked about it, but none of them slipped so far into cheap coping mechanisms like drugs. However, I don't think any of the veterans of Iraq I have met saw any live combat. So maybe these are realistic depictions of what it is like to come back from active combat where you have to be on edge constantly. I can't give you a definitive answer on that but it seems a little misguided to associate all combat veterans with such direct inability to cope with life afterward. The play, as I said, put things into perspective though. If a soldier faced with the lingering memory of death can sound like a misanthropic whiner, I should be able to handle a lighter load without spending my nights nursing glasses of whiskey and wine. If you can get passed the fact these people's mental fortitude sometimes feels like it has the viscosity of glass, then you'll easily be able to enjoy this play. While I do think it gets a little long and some of the dialogue seems redundant between Simon and Lisa, the acting, writing, and set design are exquisite. I recommend you see it.

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