Don’t be surprised if you’re checking your watch after the first act of this Writers’ Theatre production. Was that really an hour that just flew by? Rarely is a show so absorbing that you lose any reliable sense of time. It’s a credit to director Kate Buckley and her exceptional cast who create a vividly rendered portrait of a World War I British tank unit camped out in the forest the night before a battle. Tomorrow, they will receive orders to engage in what is almost surely a suicide mission. But tonight, they can only ponder their fate and take pleasure in the numbing effects of their morphine tabs and a final carnal embrace, courtesy of an aging, droopy, sad-eyed French prostitute who is set up in a tent nearby. Playwright Nick Whitby generates whole swaths of comedy with this scenario—stuck in a foxhole, soldiers are at once blunt and bitterly funny—as the fellas take their last stab in the dark: “The fucktress awaits.” A more pressing issue dominates the conversation, however, and it concerns whether or not the unit is morally obligated to go into a battle when their deaths are unlikely to garner any tactical advantage. Huddled around the fire, the men debate their options, and Jason Bradley is particularly good as the unit commander who is at once protective of his men and cynical about their situation. (Designer Matt York has created a cleverly tactile set of packed dirt and heavy logs, and the ensemble uses every square inch of it to great effect.) Only the final scene—a ham-handed moment of agitprop—is out of place, a pushy epilogue that is insulting to both the actors and the audience. (Nina Metz)
“To the Green Fields Beyond” is playing at the Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, (847)242-6000, through April 3.