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A CurtainUp Review
Oh What War
By Jenny Sandman
Taking its inspiration from a myth widely believed by WWI soldiers, that a ragtag band of deserters lived underground, in abandoned trenches, scavenging for food and supplies in no-man’s-land, director Mallory Catlett and designer Peter Ksander have come up with an entirely sensory look at war. Free of messages and political proselytizing, Oh What War combines video, sound, fog effects, crazy lighting, and original WWI-era songs into an episodic structure, highlighting different aspects of the war (its causes, its mud, profiteering, etc.). The script doesn’t do the production justice; so much of it is pure visual play (the fog; the mud pool; the tiny skeleton; not to mention the video) that at times it borders on sensory overload. However, it’s never too much. Somehow, it’s always the right amount of everything.
The mythological band of deserters lives in a claustrophobic warren of wooden beams, scavenged furniture, and bleak lighting, punctuated by the occasional video screen. A uniform-clad DJ spins the sound and musical effects, while the small cast plays a variety of roles.
Playing the ragtag group of deserters is a fantastic group of actors: G. Lucas Crane, Magin Schantz, Jessica Jelliffe, Scott Sowers, Tom Lipinski, Jason Craig, Kelli Rae Powell, and Grzegorz Labriga. Identity is fluid and almost inconsequential in this piece, but each actor creates an indelible and unique persona. It’s obvious they’ve been working on this piece for some time. The cast really comes into its own in the second half of the play; aided by Catlett’s razor-sharp direction, they keep the astounding visual effects from overwhelming the intellectually dense and often multilingual verbal banter. They also make the play’s funny moments stand out; two men getting high on ether; a masked détente involving war reparations; open-mic night with the band of deserters. In fact, the funniest and most poignant moments of the play involve Bertie (Tom Lipinski), a gangling and nervous youth who reads poems about his mother to the others.
Refreshingly, Oh What War draws no parallels to the current war. It doesn’t even really make judgments about war itself but is its own thing — a sensory coup that is best experienced by letting it simply wash over you. It’s surprisingly lighthearted, and a great start to HERE’s new season.
Editor's Note: The tickets defy anyone to complain about the high price of live theater.