For one searing hour, the world of our troops in Iraq comes home to Alexandria's MetroStage in an emotionally affecting production of a one-act play written by Sean Huze.
Huze served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq, was promoted to corporal and discharged with honors after treatment for injuries suffered in the overturning of his light armored vehicle in a sand storm in the desert.
Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Huze was an actor in Hollywood. After the service for which he volunteered in reaction to those attacks, he returned to the world of theater in California with the draft of "The Sand Storm: Stories from the Front."
As produced here at MetroStage, the piece is presented by a narrating Marine who introduces some 10 of his buddies ranging from fellow troops getting their first taste of the horrors of war and its unique combination of boredom, fear and adrenaline, to weary and wary veterans of previous tours.
The show is made up of the stories of the soldiers in this one Marine's experience. It is an exclusively masculine combat world depicting none of the females now in Iraq where the dangers of the war zone are not faced exclusively by males. This gives the piece a touch of connection to previous combat situations when America's forces were more segregated by sex.
Huze concentrates on the experience of troops in the field with only a passing reference or two to policy issues involved in this particular war. He has been quoted as having a very strong view of the policy issues raised by the absence of weapons of mass destruction and evidence of involvement in the 9/11 attacks on the part of the regime of Saddam Hussein, and those views may well have motivated his decision to write the play in the first place.
HOWEVER, HE APPROACHES the play not as a rationale or justification for either a pro or anti stance on current policies, but rather as a way to better understand just what sacrifices the involvement in Iraq has called for from our troops, and just what they have done and witnessed in our name and on our behalf.
The 10 cast members introduced by Darius A. Suziedelis as the narrating Marine work as a highly effective ensemble, each emerging from the company for a short but telling vignette illustrating different experiences — the moment you first really face your own mortality, the arrival of mail from home or the quiet moment to write a reply, the horror of the carnage when silence falls after a firefight or the lack of feeling when it all gets to be too much, the irresistible temptation to get a breath of air when wearing a gas mask in 124-degree heat or the green lieutenant's sense of responsibility for the consequences of his order which has cost lives. It all merges into a mélange of memory in the hands of a playwright with a sure sense for memorable moments.
MetroStage's intimate space works very well for this intense production. The steeply raked audience risers leave you nowhere to hide as the events happen on set designer Jen Price's platform backed by a structure of rods and scrims that, depending on how it is lit by Matthew J. Fick, seems like the inside of a tent, the outside of vehicle or the base of a cliff. The intensity of the experience is amplified by Matt Rowe's soundscape that captures not only the volume of a firefight but the haunting sound of children happily playing soccer in a village temporarily protected by these troops.
The cumulative effect of the individual pieces — stories, performances, images and sounds — is a chance to appreciate what is really involved in wearing a uniform today.
Brad Hathaway has covered theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway and edits Potomac Stages, a web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.