by Stephen Cedars · May 28, 2014
Playwrights on New Plays #80 Stephen Cedars shares his thoughts on O Walter, My Walter First, let me own up to my bias. I’ve known this play for a long time, having seen its first public reading as a recipient of the Goldberg Playwriting Award in 2011 and having tracked it sporadically since that time.
But that being said, I might have donated to the Kickstarter because I know and respect many of the artists involved, but I support the play because it offers an utterly unique vision of the stage, a grotesque absurdism equally rooted in real-world depravity and theatrical imagination.
Elena Zucker, its writer and director, stresses the subject material in the press materials. Inspired by the “crisis in veteran care at The Walter Reed Army Medical Center”, the play is structured around a scheme to sell prosthetic limbs on the black market. The buffoonish masterminds of the plan – Richard Crawford’s Doctor and Jenny Lee Mitchell’s Winnie 1 (more on that below) – share several bizarre psycho-sexual negotiations that are easy to interpret as a comment on the absurdity of a world always at war but without any idea what that means for its victims.
And yet the play succeeds mostly because it wonderfully resists interpretation. Its absurdum is initially easy to categorize, with its broad characters navigating an exaggerated landscape grounded in the recognizable military hospital. But the play quickly diverges into a multitude of fascinating theatrical sequences, most of which are remarkably distinct from one another. Scott Janes constructs a terrifying but obtuse janitor/war criminal/masterful paramour whose soliloquies are poetically intense, Andrew Baldwin and William Webber deliver a wonderful comic duo, a catatonic Walter is thrown around like a prop, and everyone comes together for an evocative and dynamic expression of madness at the top of the second Act. All told, the style is more effusively poetic, a landscape of a demented but tragic psychology, than it is political, but what’s most impressive is that everything coheres around that political structure. Oh, and in case it still sounds too straightforward, everyone is named either Walter or Winnie.
The team has constructed a wonderful evening of theatre through an unmistakable commitment to Zucker’s vision, and it’s one worth checking out before it’s through.