With its twin themes of gays in the military and the mysterious Gulf War Syndrome, “Half Life, ” currently at American Theatre Company under the auspices of Awaken! Performances, promises to be both engaging and timely. Even by the standards of agit-prop, though, the play’s characterizations and plot are merely serviceable, in the end hobbling a potentially gripping drama. Bev Spangler’s adaptation of Windy City Times’ cofounder Tracy Baim’s novel foregrounds the slowly developing romance between reporter Kate Easten (Jillian Miller) and military press-affairs officer Jen Hunter (Spangler), leaving the Gulf War veterans who fight the double menace of unclassifiable disease and bureaucratic homophobia something like bystanders to their own story. (To their credit, Baim and Spangler show the links between what might seem independent issues: soldiers discharged for sexual orientation lose health benefits.) Jenna Newman’s direction seems at times perfunctory: We know Kate Easten’s spunky and Jen Hunter’s closeted because Miller invariably enters and exits running, while Spangler looks at her shoes an awful lot. “Half Life”’s issues remain undeniably salient as a military commanded by another Bush forces out Arabic translators for their inconvenient sexuality; it’s a shame the play’s dramatic action isn’t as compelling as its politics. (John Beer)
This production is now closed.