Theater Review: BOOGIEBAN (Chicago Dramatists and 13th Street Repertory Theatre in New York)

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by Lawrence Bommer on August 9, 2019

in Theater-Chicago,Theater-New York


It’s a justified transfer. A very enterprising theater called none too fragile from Akron, Ohio has come to Chicago (and later to New York City) to offer a pretty powerful play. Presented at Chicago Dramatists in the West Loop, it’s a world-premiere production of a one-act about the hard healing that comes after combat. Written by DC Fidler, a playwright with a background in academic psychiatry, Boogieban is a visceral 95-minute look at the therapeutic sessions that connect one wounded soldier with his supposed mentor.

Sometimes the hardest battles are internal and internecine. It’s 2010 in Washington D.C. as David Peacock plays Lt. Col. Lawrence Caplan, a healer with his own “hurt locker.” He’s paid his dues twice over, this Vietnam veteran wounded in battle — and riskily rescued — who contends with flashbacks and survivor guilt, and whose gay son recently died in Afghanistan. As an army therapist charged with returning mentally unfit soldiers to the battlefield, he considers himself a “double agent,” not always acting in their best interests.

His impatient patient is Specialist Jason Wynsky, played by Travis Teffner with lacerating immediacy. Defensively wary over his psychiatrist’s “tricky” subterfuges, he’s reluctant to give up his Afghanistan secrets. He may have won a Bronze Star and received a knee injury — but this dyslexic G.I. also got repetitive nightmares, suicidal impulses, and a jumpiness that strongly suggests PTSD. His desire to deploy again is just more denial of the darkness that’s consuming his confidence.

Across a series of 45-minute sessions, we see this shrink, caught up in his own “transference” traps, and his subject, wrestling with religious doubt, find common ground by unpacking painful memories. Jason becomes almost a surrogate son as his suffering mirrors that of Lawrence’s dead one.

As is often the case in plays about buried trauma, the breakthroughs on both sides happen as wounded warriors come clean about the sacrifices they made and also inflicted. Far from contrived, these crises provide powerful opportunities for both engrossing acting and ferocious writing.

The “kindness and truth” that Jason extols as the best psychiatric strategy doesn’t come easily. The play, with its plethora of literary allusions, is almost too accurate to the meandering nature of the “talking cure.” The early scenes feel a tad too slick in automatic exchanges that betray one author rather than two characters.

But, no question, director Sean Derry knows how to trigger the truth at just the right moments. Teffner has real tears in his eyes as he relives the worst moments in any life. Peacock conveys both a professional’s discipline and a doctor’s doubts about being too broken to fix kindred souls. “Physician, heal thyself!”

We’re left with only very open-ended prospects, good and bad, for both soldiers — and a renewed appreciation for the “brotherhood” that bonds veteran victims. The title, a fusion of “Bogeyman” and “Taliban,” connects archetypal evil with its latest manifestation. What happens in Afghanistan (or Vietnam), it seems, does not stay there.

photos courtesy of none too fragile

none too fragile theatre
Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Avenue
ends on August 31, 2019
then plays 13th Street Repertory Theatre in New York September 5-29, 2019
for tickets, visit none too fragile

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