Love and war

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  April 25, 2006

Less in the tradition of Oliver Sacks and Peter Brook than of Anna Deavere Smith and Moisés Kaufmann is Boots on the Ground (at Trinity Repertory Company through May 21). Last spring, Laura Kepley and D. Salem Smith were commissioned by Trinity to create a work that focused on an issue important to the community. The National Guard being the fourth largest employer in Rhode Island, what evolved was a documentary collage, based on more than 200 hours of interviews, exploring the war in Iraq’s impact on denizens of the Ocean State. This is utterly unlike British playwright David Hare’s Stuff Happens, whose characters include George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld engineering the escalation toward war. These are, by and large, the stories of ordinary folks who have dipped their boots in the “litter box” (slang for the Iraqi desert) and their loved ones. “Oh, let’s make this play about us,” cracks one of two lively women who run the RING’s family-assistance office. And it sort of is.

Boots on the Ground is rooted in the vigorous, emotionally anchored Trinity æsthetic and is well put across — swagger, apprehension, accents, and all — by a company of five playing multiple roles. Despite one wife’s assertion that you can’t support the troops if you don’t support the war and a mother accusing the Bush administration of garnering support through fear, the piece mostly sidesteps politics. It tells stories of giant camel spiders and 115-degree heat; of walking around waiting to get shot; and of the difficult reassimilation stateside. There are briefly talking medical and psychiatric heads, and a gravelly gravitas is lent by Vietnam vet Joel Rawson, now executive editor of the Providence Journal. But this is primarily a story told by a handful of vivid voices affiliated with the RING and circling toward a death that’s among the first casualties it’s experienced since World War II. Like the folks who came home still talking and the spirited wives who never stop talking, Chris Potts deserves a memorial. But Boots on the Ground is not the deeply etched epitaph that Fires in the Mirror and The Laramie Project are.
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