BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Another American: Asking and Telling
by Les Gutman
The first and most obvious comparison is to the work of Anna Deveare Smith. In form and process, Another American: Asking and Telling essentially imitates Fire in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles. After interviewing over 150 people over a three year period, Marc Wolf has crafted a play in which he channels selections from the verbatim taped transcripts he collected, recreating not only the voices but every nuance of his subject's behavior. While Smith used her "data" to draw portraits of two communities, Wolf uses his interviews to color in an issue: the Clinton Adminstration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military.
In this respect, Wolf's project bears a strong connection to Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues (my review of which is linked below), and the parallels are striking. Both, ultimately, are about the subtle ways in which neglect of fundamental respect -- the principal focus of both -- unleashes odious, violent consequences. The best moments in both document the horrors at the end of the road -- the faces of Bosnian rape victims, as Ensler describes, who were too ashamed to look in a camera's lens; Wolf's stunning portrayal of Allen Schindler's mother as she speaks of her son's 1992 beating death at the hands of fellow sailors, his face so battered when she forced herself to look at it he had to be identified by his tattoos. He conveys, with equal poignancy, the case of "Mary Alice," a particularly effeminate Vietnam vet so named by his fellow soldiers since he obviously didn't "pass." But Mary Alice was not threat to quot;good order and discipline," as critics of gays in the material warned. He pulled his fellow soldiers together on those days when, he choked back tears to tell us, "you don't come back with all of your friends."
Whereas Ensler has difficulty maintaining tone, detouring into banality, Wolf stays sharply in focus; his play is filled with humor, but always in the service of his point. Joe Mantello, who "supervised" the Vagina Monologues production, directs here. Whatever that distinction means, this result is far more pleasing. Instead of the static figure of Ms. Ensler sitting on a barstool, we have a dynamic Wolf, not just sitting behind a table as pictured above. In one particularly effective scene involving one of many interviewees demanding anonymity, Wolf appears in silhouette against a broad, tall column; in another, the same stark wall becomes the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial.
Wolf lets us hear from a wide range of voices -- over 20 in all: gay and lesbian service members (current as well as veterans all the way back to the Second World War, those kicked out and those still in), parents, those opposed to gays in the military, professors, lawyers and others. He inhabits most of these characters masterfully, at one point even assuming double duty portraying the mid-interview banter between a lesbian couple. Although, as was also the case in Monologues, there's a sense of preaching to the converted here, Wolf textures his subject, letting juxtaposed voices make his case. A much decorated soldier may not have been able to formulate the requisite anger to react to the beating he suffered while in the brig, but the midwestern Jewish lesbian with whom he was put in contact after seeing an ad on the side of a bus certainly was. We hear from her often.
Depending on his penchant for travel, there's little doubt Wolf could take this show on the road. It's an intelligent, entertaining call to action that will have immediate appeal for gay and gay-friendly audiences, anyone with concern for human rights. Anyone who would have thought Another American was old news two weeks ago has no doubt been awakened by this week's headlines, which put this asking and telling squarely on the front burner again. But how does Wolf get booked into Officers' Clubs, where his message really ought to be heard?
LINK TO REVIEW MENTIONED ABOVE
CurtainUp's review of Vagina Monologues