‘A new life’ is father and husband Jim’s ostensible reason for transplanting his family from New York City to a rustic lodge in the country. But this happy beginning at a lodge community with “Peaceful” in its name should already send signals that the family’s new life will be anything but peaceful. In fact, everyone in the play is running away from a haunting secret. We soon learn that Jim (an intimidating Christopher LaPanta) is a recovering alcoholic and war veteran and that he has very little trouble taking his aggression out on his family, especially after a shot of whiskey or two. Mary (Margaret Curry) left more behind in New York than what we initially expect. Their sons Larry, a soldier-in-training, and Robert, a college-educated pacifist, also carry their own burdens in the move out to the woods. Heck, even the friendly new neighbor (Tony Head) has skeletons in the closet.
It’s all very intriguing for the first half of the play. Bill Holland’s play established the family relationships rather quickly and bluntly. There are hints dropped here and there, some not-so-subtle nudges and winks, but the characters and their secrets are pretty predictable. Their revelations are not exactly ground-shaking, nor do their experiences have much more depth than we’d expect. Despite the actors’ quite charming performances, their characters are standard– the over-dominant military man, the desperate housewife, the guitar-toting protester. And the play’s symbolism is almost as heavy-handed as Jim in one of his quarrels. Jim’s dialogue does not need numerous reiterations of what a ‘man’ wants and what a ‘man’ needs in order for us to understand the hyper-masculinity and sexism in his rants. But this script like to make it so. abundantly. obvious. This is also the case with the play’s over-arching symbol of wild dogs as the lasting effects of military participation. Jim starts imagining a pack of wild dogs running around the grounds of his lodge, and before long he starts to exhibit dog-like behaviors himself. It gets to the point where he’s crouching on the sofa semi-nude ravenously eating cold-cuts. I don’t think this scene was intended to be comical, but a few of us in the audience had to chuckle from its inauthentic bluntness. What’s worse is that the family shrugs it off as a sort of attention-getting stunt, whereas another play might have explored this running theme as a symptom of PTSD in a much more nuanced way.
The play’s flaws aside, this production from Wee Man Productions is really quite impressive. The cast is excellent all around. The set and technical design is really impressive and does a great justice in establishing just the right tone for the show’s climax. This certainly does not feel like a production company’s first production, and yet it is– I’m sure we can expect great things in Wee Man Productions’ future.
Hounds of War plays at the Dorothy Strelsin Theater through April 5. Tickets here.
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