As honorable as it may be, most of us could never submit to the punishment that is military service. Imagine then, being forced to submit to that part of military service that is intended to be punishment. “The Brig” provides an exhausting look at the brutal demands of the toughest part of a hard road.
First performed in 1963 at New York’s Living Theatre, marine vet Kenneth H. Brown’s script is more militaristic movement piece then it is linear soldier’s story. Don’t look for character development or Aristotelian plot construction; there isn’t any. If you’re sent to The Brig, you surrender your identity, you lose the right to speak, you have no friends. There are no bonds, no stories. Everything that we look for in a play is replaced by mind-numbing, soul-crushing repetition; that’s the essence of punishment. Playwright Brown spent thirty days in a marine brig. It’s amazing he lived to tell his tale.
In the piece, ten prisoners (Chris Brickhouse, Alex Seeley, Joel Reitsma, Mike Newquist, Connor McNamara, Ryan McDaniel, Nick Mikula, Eric Lindahl, Alex Levin and Aaron Norman) are put through vicious paces, one day in a system that demands complete compliance. The warden (G. Riley Mills) and his staff (Jacob Alexander, Mark Madison, Adam Soule) humiliate and emasculate their charges with every physical test and head game imaginable. The prison staff screams and insults the prisoners as they perform mindless chores and busy work at top speed in a ritualized, hyper-detailed manner. Kudos to the ensemble for maintaining the intensity for an aerobic hour; those push-ups and that high-knee jogging would have me wheezing.
Director Jennifer Markowitz’s environmental staging and Jimmy Jagos’ service-spare set plunges the audience into the action; there’s no way to hide from the brutality. While I wanted to learn more about the men doing time and the men who inflicted the time upon them, I know that’s not the point. The point is just getting through it. (Lisa Buscani)
At Angel Island Theatre, 735 West Sheridan, (773)871-0442. Through May 26.