Playwright: Brett Neveu . At: Writers' Theatre, 325 Tudor, Glencoe . Phone: 847-242-6000; $40-$65 . Runs through March 29. Photo courtesy of Writers' Theatre
Brett Neveu's Old Glory starts out like a mystery—suggesting that we're in for an expose of a military cover-up regarding a U.S. soldier's death in Iraq. But by the end, Old Glory becomes much more about resignation and people realizing that doing "the right thing" isn't always the best thing.
Neveu's bait-and-switch can be a disappointment—especially since the implied conspiracy at the top of the play gets very little traction while the "mystery" for the audience turns out to be which soldier will end up killing the other soldier.
Still, there's a lot to recommend in Old Glory, which receives a wonderfully acted world premiere under William Brown's assured direction at Writers' Theatre. Old Glory is the final play in Neveu's Trilogy: '04-'05-'06, which previously featured Harmless ( staged at Timeline Theatre ) and Weapon of Mass Impact ( presented by A Red Orchid Theatre ) .
It's not necessary to have seen the previous plays, since each is a self-contained drama tied in one way or another to the U.S. after 9/11. Old Glory rotates between three confrontations.
The first features two American guys in a Berlin bar making small talk. Peter ( Philip Earl Johnson ) is a world-weary career military veteran who questions why an agitated guy from New Mexico named Torlief ( Tom Mcelroy ) has sought him out. It turns out that Torlief wants answers from Peter for the real reason behind his son's death in Iraq.
Then there's a meeting in the New Mexico home of Torlief's wife, Margaret ( Penny Slusher ) , and Scott ( LaShawn Banks ) , an ex-soldier who served alongside her son in Iraq. Scott has some awkward truths to share with Margaret, which causes her to have a big emotional outburst.
The final confrontation is between the soldiers Rat ( Marcus Truschinski ) and Goss ( Steve Haggard ) , who are sharing a room in what looks to be a liberated Saddam Hussein presidential palace ( an effectively designed set by Keith Pitts ) . Goss is obsessed with his graphic novels and is more of a live wire, while Rat is appears to be more pensive and shaken up by the brutality of their patrols.
Though Neveu provides a lot of great dialogue and material for each of these actors to sink their teeth into, they're ultimately let down by the play as a whole. It just doesn't coalesce well.
But as the '06 play of Neveu's trilogy, Old Glory does reflect the resignation and regret that many Americans had after three years of U.S. involvement in Iraq. People may have done what they felt "the right thing" was following 9/11, but the outcomes proved to be more complex and ambiguous as shown by Neveu's emotionally worn characters in Old Glory.