at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
world premiere – opening performance, February 24, 2008
Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter by Julie Marie Myatt
I cannot image a more calculated tugging of the audience’s heart-strings. Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter is Love Story written to honor Iraq War veterans. I feel manipulated, dirty.
“I noticed that you didn’t give the play a standing ovation, little boy. Most everyone else did. Don’t you honor our service men and women?”
All the playwright left out was little puppy dogs and cute bunnies.
In addition, it was the slowest 90 minutes imaginable. The characters had plenty of time to sing hymns and give treacly speeches. Those were mostly addressed to the play audience instead of other characters on the set. And, there were still hours left over for the characters to sit on stage and stare meaningfully into space.
I have long believed that Samuel Johnson was right in opining that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I just didn’t know that it was also way to get Hallmark Card script produced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The basic problem is that the author apparently had an idea for a brief, poignant vignette. To stretch it into even a 90-minute one-act play, she added sappiness and lost focus. This is the play’s first production, and I hope that the several good moments can be rescued in a tighter, less boozy-American Legion, rewrite.
What works in this production is the OSF cast and craftspeople. They work spectacularly, occasionally making the experience captivating (… until the emotion-heavy words return).
Gregory Linington as Donald and Gwendolyn Mulamba’s Jenny Sutter have the most magical of moments together (they are the actors in the picture). On stage alone, they reprise their world-class pain and longing first shown in Intimate Apparel in 2006. These actors break through the shallow verbiage given them and expose their souls’ ache.
Mulamba is flawless throughout, and copes well with the too-long time she’s left to do nothing on stage. Her performance is subtle, despite the words given to her to say.
David Kelley (Buddy), Kate Mulligan (Kate), K.T. Vogt (Cheryl), and Cameron Knight (Hugo) were all also adept at bringing meaning and genuine emotion to the play. Richard Hay’s set was properly austere and functional.
If I would have stood to applaud, it would have been for the production and not the play.
Yet, I predict this play will be a smash. OSF is offering active duty military, veterans, and reservists two free tickets to the play. Patriotic families will bring their kids. This American show has more donor sponsors/producers/hangers-on listed in the playbill than any of the other productions. After Ashland the show is going to run in Kennedy Center in Washington. I wouldn’t be surprised if President Bush attended and shed a tear at the appropriate moments.
Everyone loves a veteran. Isn’t it awful what these soldiers have gone through.
Of course it is. But, this play is a cringe-inducing exploitation, not an honoring.
This doesn’t bode well for OSF’s Ghost Light, also directed by Moscone.