Off-Broadway Theater Review: SOLDIER SONGS (Schimmel Center for the Arts)

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by Cindy Pierre on January 14, 2013

in Theater-New York

ASSAULTED

If you’re looking to experience the shell shock and the trauma that soldiers undergo during wartime and its aftermath, then head on down to the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University to see David T. Little’s operatic Soldier Songs.  But please heed the warning.  This multimedia event is not your garden-variety depiction of war.  Rather, it is a theatrical presentation that sometimes ushers realism to the forefront at the expense of entertainment.  In other words, you will get as close to the frontlines as a stage can take you, but it won’t be fun.  Be prepared for some possible headaches and vision disturbances by the show’s end.

Cindy Pierre’s Stage and Cinema review of SOLDIER SONGS – PACE presents St Schimmel Center New York

With a libretto that incorporates real interviews with soldiers that served in five wars, Soldier Songs is a portrayal of war at its darkest and how it infiltrates American culture from the sandbox to the retirement home.  From the foreboding music that signals impending danger even before the curtain rises, the show is a relentless and pounding presentation of doom that arrests your attention because you’re afraid of what will happen to you if you don’t give in.

Cindy Pierre’s Stage and Cinema review of SOLDIER SONGS – PACE presents St Schimmel Center New York

Visualized and told from three different perspectives (two of which are simultaneous), the story begins with a six year old Boy (Zac Ballard) in a sandbox playing on his teeter totter with toy soldiers.  Chisato Uno creates an ingenious, intriguing, multi-purposed sandbox that serves as the central set piece, one which morphs from a child’s playground to a canvas for war.  The Boy moves silently about the stage as The Soldier (a hardworking Christopher Burchett) engages him with song, singing in bass (as The Soldier) and falsetto (as the Boy) that would make any castrati jealous.  The choice to arrange this song this way is already peculiar on its own, but becomes even more baffling when Boy finally breaks his silence towards the end to sing “I wish I could tell you that everything will be alright” and demonstrates that he has quite some pipes.

Cindy Pierre’s Stage and Cinema review of SOLDIER SONGS – PACE presents St Schimmel Center New York

Heavy physical interaction between The Boy and The Soldier illustrates the progression of violent video games, which are displayed on the back wall of the stage: Run out into the battlefield with the same objective in mind: Shoot the bad guys and collect points or money.  Corey Michael Smithson and Brian Ireland’s fantastic animation design and Christopher Kuhl’s electrifying lighting design join together to simulate passionate couch play as well as bloody skirmishes. Five TV sets around the sandbox’s perimeter also display angry graphic images.  All of the production elements – from Little’s jarring classical music (reminiscent of the Kronos Quartet) to the nonrhythmic and dismal vocal arrangements sung by Burchett – denote that war is horrendous and life-sucking in every way.  Despite Little’s own military-heavy heritage and his insistence in the creator’s notes that Soldier Songs is not meant to prove or convince a point, his anti-war stance is clear.  He may only be presenting the facts from his interviews, but the way they are interwoven into the production paints a very grim picture that is akin to picketing.

Cindy Pierre’s Stage and Cinema review of SOLDIER SONGS – PACE presents St Schimmel Center New York

Soldier Songs concludes with Burchett playing an Elder, reflecting on losses and mistakes.  By then, you’ll be surprised that you only sat in the theatre for an hour.  In that hour, you’ll have taken a very dramatic tour that includes bloodshed, pain, and the feeling that you’ve just been Clockwork Oranged.  And just when you think the production may be over, an epilogue during which the Elder and Boy circle each other in a battle of wills extends its lifespan and takes away from the audience’s.

Cindy Pierre’s Stage and Cinema review of SOLDIER SONGS – PACE presents St Schimmel Center New York

Is Soldier Songs a remarkable piece of work with a strong point of view?  Yes.  Director Yuval Sharon orchestrates everything on stage to present a cohesive argument for an end to wars. But it’s much too scary and downright disturbing to be enjoyed (not that enjoyment is the point). Like the Soldier, you may be unprepared for all of the assaults, but at least it’s only your senses being assaulted as an audience member.  If you’re a little naïve about what actually happens when our boys and girls hit the ground, you may emerge enlightened, but don’t be surprised if nightmares ensue.

Cindy Pierre’s Stage and Cinema review of SOLDIER SONGS – PACE presents St Schimmel Center New York

photos by  Jill Steinberg

Soldier Songs
a joint endeavor of HERE and Beth Morrison Projects
presented as part of PACE Presents at Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts
scheduled to end on January 18th, 2013
for tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://schimmel.pace.edu

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