The UW School of Drama’s production of “In the Heart of America” had its opening night Wednesday, March 6, at the Floyd and Delores Jones Playhouse.
The play was written by Obie Award-winning playwright Naomi Wallace and the production is a testament to her ability to bring awareness to issues while creating poetic and powerful entertainment.
The heartbreaking and riveting story touches on the many shocking practices within the U.S. military, weaving through the decades by going back and forth between the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, and their aftermath.
The play follows a young Palestinian-American woman who is trying to unravel the mystery of how her brother Remzi lost his life during the first Gulf War. Through flashbacks, we discover the love affair between her brother and his partner, Craver — an affair that ultimately led to his death. Intertwined with this is a story between a Vietnam soldier and the ghost of a woman who is determined to get justice for her daughter who the soldier killed during the massacre at My Lai.
The play was jammed-packed with many themes, touching on sexual assault, homophobia, racism, and familial tension. Despite covering many issues, however, the production somehow never overwhelms you.
“In the Heart of America” could be described as poetic. It was brimming with powerful metaphors and symbols that allowed for small moments such as the way a person approaches a wounded soldier to mean so much more.
The play only has five characters and each actor was extremely talented and executed their roles with a passion that resonated with the audience. It was hard not to be impressed by their ability to pour so much soul into such emotionally difficult roles.
Although the play was wonderful, it is not for the faint of heart. The use of racial and homophobic slurs effectively drove home how intense the situation was, but it was startling. Those scenes were very jarring moments that left me feeling unsettled and somewhat uncomfortable.
One of the most well-crafted elements of the play is its focus on the problematic practices within the military. Witnessing the racism Remzi was subjected to because of his Palestinian heritage, both in his childhood and from his officers, was excruciating. Because of Remzi’s ancestral connection to the people that the United States was at war with, Remzi experiences a lot of hatred. It was disgusting and your heart goes out to him for his willingness to fight for a country that constantly looked down on him.
This play is set in the time right before the Don't Ask Don't Tell era and the homophobia Craver and Remzi experience is unimaginable. They created a beautiful relationship that is destroyed by homophobia and anger from the outside forces of the military.
The play also sheds light to the military's issue of sexual assault. The U.S. military is somewhat infamous for its inability and refusal to work toward justice for sexual assault survivors. This play gave a voice to people who were captured or ambushed by the military and were then later assaulted by our soldiers, stories which are often not talked about. The play communicates their experience to the audience in a very raw way.
The play was not only powerful, but also beautiful. The playhouse is an intimate setting with a small stage in the center of the room and seating rising up and around it. The set was a glowing focal point; it doubled as an Iraqi desert and Motel 6 bedroom. The bedroom was half submerged in sand, allowing it to depict many locations while also suggesting that all the moments, past and present, were intertwined. Lighting was also utilized as an effective tool. Changing the color of the room to appear in a hue of blue or green allowed the audience to feel the characters being transported to the past, present, or somewhere in between.
I left the theater feeling both in awe and in disbelief of the disturbing experiences of these characters. The play ends on a light and happy note that allows you to appreciate the simple moments in life and makes you want to watch it all over again.
“In the Heart of America” runs until March 17 and tickets range from $8 to $20.
Reach writer Chamidae Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @chamidae_ford
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