Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sins Of Our Fathers

Sins Of Our Fathers

By Tom Wachunas

“Then Waves” is the last of the three world-premiere plays in this year’s New Play Conservatory at Canton Players Guild Theatre. Written by Kevin Anthony Kautzman and directed here by Craig Joseph, it is easily the most audacious and startling – even dangerous – drama I’ve seen anywhere for longer than I can remember. Its staying power is not unlike the rude, abusive dinner guest who refuses to leave. And even after he’s been physically dispatched (leaving in his wake painful memories), there are those clingy remnants of yet- to- be- chewed meat particles still lodged in my teeth.

I am cautiously certain that such difficulty in processing this story lies in its complex psychological layerings that, like peeling an onion, reveal progressively unsettling facts and flaws about the characters. Kautzman’s compelling writing is a vigorous and visceral exercise in exorcising – a riveting portrait rendered with a relentless barrage of narrative lightning bolts. This is a story for our time, to be sure. As such it’s a searing cry, a dirge, a howling prayer for redemption.

The play opens with cast members reciting, “Stabat mater dolorosa…,” the beginning of the classic medieval Roman Catholic hymn about Mary’s suffering as she beholds her crucified son. “The sorrowful mother stood…” Stabat mater. Even the Latin words are an eerily relevant onomatopoeia: ‘stabbing matter.’

Most of the scenes take place on a hilltop with a blood-red bench and limp American flag on a pole, overlooking a Veteran’s cemetery in the characters’ hometown. And most are introduced with recited lines from Stabat Mater, giving the proceedings all the dark, ‘sacred’ solemnity of a funereal lament.

The story is built around the life of Brady, a U.S. soldier returned from his Mid- Eastern tour of duty, suffering from PTSD. In the first act we quickly sense that this is a worst-case scenario. Ultimately we’re presented with a man so torn and haunted by the war atrocities he witnessed and committed that his mind, already sickened by past bitter resentments, has snapped beyond retrieval. His is a paranoid-schizophrenic reality immersed in mangled obsession with the Old Testament God of hellfire and vengeance; horrific verbal and physical abuse of his son, Cailin (who, Brady is convinced, is not his own); and the certainty that his wife, Thee, has had an affair with his old school chum, Ryan. Brady confesses to his counselor that a dream has inspired him exactly how and where to kill Cailin. Thus in the second act we as audience become in turn fully immersed in Brady’s nightmarish ‘reality’. Actually carried out, or only imagined? I’ll never tell. Then again, I’m not precisely sure. Still chewing on that one.

The cast here is uniformly excellent. Peter Calac is utterly disarming as the abused son struggling with shattered dreams of a romantic future amid fruitless attempts to heal his broken relationship with Brady. He’s the embodiment of real wounded innocence, tempered by a wisdom and resolve beyond his years. Additionally, it’s fascinating to watch how Maria Work, playing Thee, and Ryan Nehlan, playing Ryan, are transformed from their convincing portrayals of concerned wife and loyal friend, respectively, into equally convincing guilty lovers on-the-attack in the second act.

All of this is certainly a testament to Craig Joseph’s skills as a director. But what’s most astonishing are his skills as an actor. Who or what could have directed him in his portrayal of Brady, other than a profoundly genuine, even selfless submergence in the story? Joseph’s performance is a baptism of sorts, this one complete with not a sprinkling but a frightening torrent of insanely fowl-mouthed chants and ravings that constantly crest and fall throughout the evening like...waves. Despite our “civilized” aversion to such unnerving displays, we watch, captured and mesmerized, like helpless bystanders at a house on fire.

The play ends with the image of much-awaited rainfall washing the cast gathered on the hill. Another wave, then. There is an abiding, haunting sense of inevitability about the moment. In the big picture, such waves – purges- are only temporary, albeit necessary salves on an ageless, painful truth: redemption comes always – and only - with blood.


New Play Conservatory at the Players Guild William G. Fry Arena Theatre, located in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave. North, Canton, Ohio. All performances at 8p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30p.m. Sundays, Tickets $10. Call (330) 453 – 7617.
“Then Waves,” by Kevin Kautzman, directed by Craig Joseph, July 23 – 25 (violence and adult language).

For more information on playwright Kevin Anthony Kautzman, visit

Photo: “The Scream” by Edvard Munch

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