Chicago Theater Review: 9 CIRCLES (Sideshow Theatre Company)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 6, 2013

in Theater-Chicago


Just as America seems to be expanding rather than concluding our deal with the Devil in the Middle East, Sideshow Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere–a valuable, 100-minute drama–seems all the more topical, valuable and non-negotiable. In the spirit of A Few Good Men, Bill Cain’s pile-driving play 9 Circles exposes war’s constant curse—how it dehumanizes predators and victims. Where killing is what matters and the cause doesn’t count–whether geopolitics or military-industrial profit, whether sarin gas or bullets. The casualties don’t matter either, whether innocent or uniformed.

Alluding to Dante’s concentric slices of hell, 9 Circles consists of nine scenes detailing the fate of Pvt. Daniel Reeves (Andrew Goetten), a war criminal with a license to kill. Facing the death penalty for atrocities committed in Iraq, including the rape, murder and incineration of a 14-year-old girl whose last plea was “I want Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema Chicago review of 9 CIRCLES at Steppenwolf Theatre Companyto live,” this unrepentant punk from West Texas seems a poster boy for what’s wrong with all that “Army of One” propaganda.

In descending encounters with an army attorney, public defender, military chaplain, shrink, and prosecutor (richly explored by Andy Luther, Jude Roche and Amanda Powell), we glimpse Reeves from all sides, his own as well. One lawyer castigates him as the evil distillation of a wrong-headed war: This testosterone-crazed, adrenaline-fueled, jobless druggie with a violent rap sheet and numerous D.U.I.s who relished a chance to slaughter with impunity is just what’s wrong with a “volunteer” army. For him Daniel’s civilian trial is just the latest Nuremberg tribunal—a legal way of asking of this longest war, “Is it worth it?”

But to his defense advocate, Reeves is our chosen warrior, a grisly grunt meant to kill the enemy and unable to distinguish who is not (a killing machine is just following orders). Weary with America’s seemingly unstoppable “wars of choice,” the psychiatrist from whom Daniel sought help all but gives him carte Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema Chicago review of 9 CIRCLES at Steppenwolf Theatre Companyblanche to kill. Sorting out the enemy from the collateral damage is a distinction without a difference. The faith-based pastor wants him to turn to Jesus, though this country boy can quote the Bible himself to justify his murderous misogyny.

Deep in denial over the death of a sergeant whose loss was Daniel’s last eruption of humanity (as, oddly, he drooled over the dying man), Daniel seems all the more resistant to the ugly fact that three fellow soldiers were assassinated at a checkpoint in retaliation for his execution of the local teen.

At the end Daniel is alone, searingly illuminated in the ninth and worst circle—his own torturous memory of the girl’s last words. If that’s not the hell he deserves, he can always make his own.

Of course, this too-typical tragedy recalls the G.I. recently sentenced to life in prison who systematically killed 24 Iraqis as he wandered through an apartment building, blowing away women, children, anyone who moved enough to be a target. Of course, we’ve had atrocities in all our wars, declared or not, legal or moral or neither. But, despite Goetten’s sometimes maddening mumbling as he fakes a slurring Southern Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema Chicago review of 9 CIRCLES at Steppenwolf Theatre Companydrawl, Marti Lyons’ crisp staging brings it home, its locale just as easily Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan or perhaps Syria and Iran to come (anything but deal with a broken country here at home).

Cain’s brutal expose may not be as balanced as some summer patriots or chicken hawks might prefer, and, of course, his case can’t indict every soldier who served in one desert storm or another. But the specificity of 9 Circles orders us to question the lethal sacrifices done in our name by less lucky Americans half a world away.

photos by Jonathan L. Green

9 Circles
Sideshow Theatre Company
DCASE Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph St.
scheduled to end on October 6, 2013
for tickets, visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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