Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: AFGHANISTAN, ZIMBABWE, AMERICA, KUWAIT (The Gym at Judson)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on June 9, 2015

in Theater-New York

GREAT DEPICTION OF WAR, BUT WHAT FOR?

Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait, written and directed by Daniel Talbott, begins in near darkness with a Serbian Woman (Jelena Stupljanin) in a desert delivering a monologue in Serbian that we can guess has to do with her having been gang-raped and tortured; later we learn this was at the hands of American soldiers. The scene is devastating, Ms. Stupljanin’s performance gut-wrenching—the sounds coming from her are like an apocalyptic storm; it’s one of the most effective first scenes of any show I’ve seen. Yet after it’s over, Afghanistan, about three American soldiers stranded in a desert fire base with supplies running out and no communication with headquarters, starts to die.

Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait The Gym at Judson Cast List: Kathryn Erbe Stephen Dexter Brian Miskell Seth Numrich Chris Stack Jimi Stanton Jelena Stupljanin  Andy Striph Production Credits: Daniel Talbott (director) Raul Abrego (scenic design)

Its terminal condition isn’t immediately apparent thanks to dynamic, emotionally revved-up renditions by Seth Numrich, Chris Stack, and, to a milder extent, Brian Miskell, who play the three men, Smith, Miller and Leadem. But with time this well-directed production, set in a pessimistic, not-so-distant future, grinds to a halt, its ending finally so sentimental that it borders on vulgar.

Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait The Gym at Judson Cast List: Kathryn Erbe Stephen Dexter Brian Miskell Seth Numrich Chris Stack Jimi Stanton Jelena Stupljanin  Andy Striph Production Credits: Daniel Talbott (director) Raul Abrego (scenic design)

Rather than telling a story, Mr. Talbott’s well-intentioned misfire shows us isolated moments from the soldiers’ increasingly desperate desert existence—moments intensely lit by Joel Moritz, and separated by shots of darkness. But these reveal little of interest about these characters and too often consist of banal, predictable, and inconsequential dreams and hallucinations of home, of past sins and pleasures. And although the monologues and conversations—with Leadem’s Mom (Kathryn Erbe), his Brother (Jimi Stanton), and the Serbian Woman—have nice bits to them, overall they are pedestrian.

Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait The Gym at Judson Cast List: Kathryn Erbe Stephen Dexter Brian Miskell Seth Numrich Chris Stack Jimi Stanton Jelena Stupljanin  Andy Striph Production Credits: Daniel Talbott (director) Raul Abrego (scenic design)

Raul Abrago’s excellent sand-desert set, and Tristan Raines’ realistic military costumes, lend authenticity to the space, and David Tennent’s continuous projections—of sky, or forest night—give it an additional sense of depth. But the complete absence of suspense makes watching Afghanistan feel like being on a train that doesn’t go anywhere—sure there’s a bar car and a restaurant car and sleeping berths, but your reason for getting on was that you wanted this vehicle to take you someplace, and it never does.

Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait The Gym at Judson Cast List: Kathryn Erbe Stephen Dexter Brian Miskell Seth Numrich Chris Stack Jimi Stanton Jelena Stupljanin  Andy Striph Production Credits: Daniel Talbott (director) Raul Abrego (scenic design)

photos by Joan Marcus

Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, KuwaitThe Gym at JudsonCast List:Kathryn ErbeStephen DexterBrian MiskellSeth NumrichChris StackJimi StantonJelena Stupljanin Andy StriphProduction Credits:Daniel Talbott (director)Raul Abrego (scenic design)

Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater & Piece by Piece Productions
The Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street
ends on June 27, 2015
for tickets, call (212) 627-2556 or visit www.rattlestick.org

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