Steven Dietz’s exploration of the Vietnam War’s lingering echoes, currently at Steppenwolf’s mainstage, seems at first glimpse firmly placed in Sam Shepard territory: a lone trailer somewhere in the Southwestern desert; a pair of aging veterans, Ben (Tracy Letts) and Jeeter (John Judd), with trouble connecting. The first hint that Dietz is out to play on our expectations comes with the revelation that Ben’s father was himself no ordinary soldier, but an aide of some sort to Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara. Dietz’s first act is stuffed with sudden twists like that, which I’ll refrain from revealing further. Dietz’s dramatic imagination, like Jeeter’s playful similes, shows some signs of strain; he walks a fine line between surprise and pure implausibility. But he offers an engaging, haunting reflection on the grip of old traumas, both personal and national, and the power of the play’s central images makes complaints that they might be overdetermined seem petty. Letts and Judd bring a finely honed interplay to their central roles; the play’s female characters have to bear heavier burdens of symbolic freight, but Amy Morton and Mariann Mayberry manage to imbue them with signs of real life. Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen’s sound design deserves special notice for the exceptional still and foreboding transitions between present reality and ghostly past. (John Beer)
This production is now closed.