A Review of ReEntry
By Dwight Jon Zimmerman, 2009 Gold Medal Award for Reference recipient for The Book of War
ReEntry is an off-Broadway play that is an ensemble of stories about Marines and their loved ones, recounting deployment experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and life adjustments back in the United States. The life-changing disconnect between those who have experienced combat coming into contact with loved ones, acquaintances, and strangers who have not is a common thread in most of the stories in ReEntry.
Written by Emily Ackerman and K.J. Sanchez and directed by K.J. Sanchez, the stories in ReEntry are drawn from interviews of Marines and their loved ones that they conducted over a period of three years, and all the dialogue in the play comes from those interviews. Both Ms. Ackerman and Ms. Sanchez had brothers who either served or are serving in the military. Ms. Sanchez’s brothers served during the Vietnam War, with most fighting in that conflict. Ms. Ackerman’s brothers, both Marines, served multiple deployments in Iraq.
Five actors perform in the play, with four, Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, Bobby Moreno, P.J. Sosko, and Sheila Tapia playing multiple roles. Joseph Harrell, a Marine Corps veteran, serves as the narrator.
From the moment Mr. Harrell, a retired sergeant and former drill instructor, quietly strides onto the stage and delivers his opening monologue, to the final emotionally draining scene, ReEntry lays everything on the line. The only difference is in the intensity of the many scenarios. Some are light, others are deadly serious and some, like the “Transition” story, an indictment of the well-intentioned but flawed process designed to prepare Marines too wounded to remain in the service for life in the civilian world, contain a skillful mixture of both. Some are vignettes; others gradually unfold as the play progresses. All contain an honesty that is blunt, many times profane, and as the play reaches its climax, gut-wrenchingly raw.
As Clint Eastwood depicted in his movie Gran Torino, our nation is composed of social worlds arguably defined more by differences in value-shaping experiences (or lack thereof) than by the cultural mores of the ethnic groups that make up the country. In extreme examples those worlds can be thoroughly foreign, completely incomprehensible, and potentially violently incompatible to each other.
One particularly striking example of the potential for violence between the two groups occurs well into the play. It is a story of when a group of young self-absorbed individuals (in this case skateboarders) whose idea of self-sacrifice is to turn off their cell phones while skateboarding roll their way into a neighborhood and begin performing property-damaging stunts on property adjacent to that owned by a Marine veteran, played by P. J. Sosko. Mr. Sosko’s monologue recounting the confrontation between his character and the skateboarders is one of many emotionally riveting high points.
It is a testament to his talent that Mr. Sosko succeeds in conveying without going over the top the sarcasm and capped rage a person who’s survived combat has when dealing with shallow hedonists and their arrogant, incoherent protests and justifications—while resisting the urge to simply kill them; an action thematically analogous to the disposing of trash. Truly a bravura performance.
The defining story in the play is that of two brothers, Charlie and John (Bobby Moreno and P. J. Sosko, respectively), and their mother (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris), and sister Liz (Sheila Tapia). Charlie and John suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with their mother and sister experiencing the desperate anguish of loved ones who find themselves helpless to aid two people they deeply care for. It is based on co-author Emily Ackerman’s own experience with her brothers. Due primarily to its length (the story builds throughout the production) this account emerges as the most powerful one in the play.
The climax of this story, told in a monologue by Ms. Luqmaan-Harris, is the final moments of the downward spiral of Charlie and John’s lives that reaches its nadir when one, in the depths of drunken anguish telephones his brother and tells him he’s decided to take his shotgun and blow his brains out. That rock-bottom moment becomes a catalyst that enables the two to reach out to each other in a way impossible for their mother and sister and turn the emotional wounds destroying their lives into the very things that will help heal them. Ms. Luqmaan-Harris’s monologue is performed with a calm, poignant dignity that is both devastating and inspirational.
Bobby Marino is commendably effective portraying the variety of youthful Marines who, as a result of their combat experiences, find themselves strangers in their own country, who accept the change as casually as if they were picking a new pair of sneakers to replace old, worn-out ones, and find ways to “deal with it.”
Sheila Tapia performs a wide range of roles, from that of female Marine, to Marine spouse, to Marine sister. Each had its particular demands and she rose to all challenges with ease and skill. Surrounded by so many strong stories filled with drama, she delivered many brilliantly understated performances that allowed the audience the necessary breathing space to prepare for the next emotionally wrenching tale.
In one respect, Joseph Harrell had the easiest role of all, that of being himself, a Marine. His command presence was a rock for the production, giving it a credibility that would have been missing had the cast been composed solely of actors who had never served in the military, let alone the Marine Corps. The high point of his performance occurs during the funeral scene when Sgt. Harrell, in full dress uniform, marches down the stairs, salutes the coffin, and then marches back up. No words spoken. None were needed.
ReEntry runs from February 6 through March 7, 2010. Seats are general admission only. Regular price is $40. Military rate with ID is $20. Performances are 90 minutes long, with no intermission. ReEntry is performed at the Urban Stages Theater, 259 West 30th Street, New York, NY 10018. Tickets are available through Smartix and can be ordered either by phone (212-868-4444) or online at Smarttix.com.