The Soldier Dreams
By Daniel MacIvor, Directed by Steven J. Satta-Fleming
Through April 21 at Theatre Project
We here at City Paper have fallen all over ourselves praising Iron Crow Theatre, a local company devoted to queer/LGBT-focused productions. We gave it Best New Face on the Theater Scene in our 2011 Best of Baltimore issue, and have followed this season with avid interest. So it is with disappointment that we pronounce the current production, The Soldier Dreams by Daniel MacIvor, just not that great.
The play, which is only a little more than an hour long, focuses on a family as they gather around a sickbed. David (Alec Weinberg) lies dormant in a coma on the bed—the only set dressing—throughout the production; the audience can see only the back of his head. Periodically, he produces apparently random words: “Ottawa,” “matchbook,” “German doctor,” which his two sisters, brother-in-law, and lover Richard (Joseph Ritsch) struggle to comprehend. The sickbed scenes alternate with monologues in which each character addresses the audience directly, describing his or her relationship to David and with one another, and with re-enactments, in which David (in these scenes played by Paul Wissman) meets and has a one-night stand with a seductive German medical student (Rich Buchanan).
Through the re-enactments, the audience learns that, as he fades away, David is in fact remembering this particular evening, though no one close to him realizes it. It’s one of many allusions to lack of communication in the play. A pained Richard admits at one point that he and David slept with other people without ever discussing it with one another, and—in a humorous touch—nearly every one of David’s family members seems to think he or she taught David sign language, and share this secret code with him alone.
The acting is, overall, convincing. The awkwardness of the deathbed situation—transmitted through tense silences, fumbled lines, and self-conscious body language—is tangible throughout. David’s sister Tish (Marsha Becker), all pearls and turtlenecks and clasped hands, is suitably brittle, and Steve Sawicki is another standout as Sam, her bumbling, frumpy husband who nevertheless delivers some of the most compelling lines of the play—“Words are like cages for thoughts,” he muses at one point.
But it is always risky for the protagonist to essentially be absent, and—though it seems more the fault of the play than the production—the risk doesn’t pay off in this case. The audience is told repeatedly that “if David had his way, we’d all be dancing,” but Wissman’s David is on the dorky, soft-spoken side, and it doesn’t ring true. Rather than developing a three-dimensional sense of who David is, the audience learns only a litany of characteristics: He hated photographs, he loved dancing. As a result, by the end one remains strangely unmoved, despite the obvious poignancy of the story. All of which make even the flashy last scene—it involves Abba, but we won’t give it away—feel strikingly unearned.