BOTTOM LINE: Women and War tackles the American woman's experience with war during the last 75 years. Despite a few housekeeping issues, this play is deeply touching and educational.
Women and War is a compilation of stories about the involvement of American women in 20th century wars. The majority of the play is about the housewives, mothers, and young fiancées who have loved ones engaged in combat. Their stories are told through their letters to their husbands fighting in WWII, Vietnam, and South Korea. We also hear firsthand accounts of war nurses dealing with mass casualties, political activists in opposition and support of the war, and a young women who was inspired by 9/11 to join the army. These accounts are moving and well acted, although I wish the play embellished on women's experiences in war by offering a broader prospective of women's war stories.
The whole cast is very strong, but Elise Rovinsky, Casandera M.J. Lollar, and Lowell Byers particularly stand out. I was amused and charmed by Lollar's performance of the WWII fiancée waiting for her lover to return home, and I found myself crossing my fingers right along with her. Rovinsky's performance of a nurse dealing with the wounded in Vietnam brought me to tears. For her, the war wasn't fought in the fields of rice patties, but against her own emotions and fatigue as she struggled to stay strong for her patients. As soldiers begged to be washed before they died, and as they lost limbs and friends, she had to support and be strong for them. As she retells her experience, she seems horrified at her own words as they come out of her mouth, as if she is just owning up to the experience for the first time. Rovinsky's performance is so fresh and moving; she's a tremendous actress to watch. I was also very impressed by Lowell Byers, the one man in the production. He plays every male role in the script, and switches from character to character flawlessly. It is fun to watch him transform from a pumped up "Phili" kid recently deployed to Vietnam, to a strait-laced 40s boy in France, to a depressed pilot in South Korea. It is interesting to watch as his posturing and facial expression changes from person to person, and he pulls it off so well it is as if you are watching entirely different actors.
Watching this play is an emotional roller coaster - funny, exciting, humbling, and incredibly sad all at the same time. But still, I walked away a little disappointed. Aesthetically it isn't the best. The soundscape is distracting - too loud in some segments and used too frequently. While one monologue is going on, the other actors on stage flip through their pages as if they are following along, which I find distracting and annoying. Also, there is no late seating – lame. Most of all, it is hard for me to get over that this play is called Women and War, but only tackles American women's experiences with war during the 20th century, because there is such a bigger story out there. Maybe it's the 21st century feminist in me, but I wanted to hear stories of women used as spies, the women whose bodies are used as weapons, and the women whose involvement (or lack thereof) in war shape today's worldwide political landscape. Instead, Women and War is primarily letters home to wives and mothers between the 1940s and 1960s. I feel like it downplays my gender's importance and involvement.
(Women and War played at the Spoon Theater, 38 West 38th Street, 5th floor. It closed on May 22, 2010. For more information visit www.retroproductions.org.)