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The Promise of a Rose Garden
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2016-08-17

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Playwright: Dustin Spence. At: Babes With Blades Theatre Company at City Lit, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: $22. Runs through: Sept. 10

In stories about men and war, the soldiers squabble among themselves, raise ruckus out of sheer boredom, but stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the battlefield, only to be haunted in later years by memories of horrors witnessed. In stories about women and war, however, the soldiers share sororal unity, pine for boyfriends left behind, are discharged for getting pregnant, and—in recent years—reassure husbands and children via Skype that mommy will be home soon.

Playwright Dustin Spence's attempt to "level the playing field" by imposing band-of-brothers tropes on female actors, while inevitably falling short of its goal—actual war experience being too broad and varied to ever be confined within the conventions of fictional narrative—is commendable, nonetheless.

For those exercising the necessary suspension of disbelief, Spence keeps the khaki-clad thrills coming as he tracks the progress of Nichols, Ferguson, Ruiz and Sharif—members of the U.S. Marine Corps taking advantage of the 2015 announcement opening combat duty to women by volunteering for the grueling Advance Infantry Officer Course—and their two sole surviving predecessors, Selmy and Rockford. After a first act densely packed with background intel, punches, kicks, grapples, gunfire of every caliber, group drinking and the kind of vulgar language that men imagine women employ, one of our GI Janes begins to hallucinate interrogations by death angels. The struggle to keep her from becoming a danger to herself and to those around her propels the second act.

Increased social awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder enables Spence to summarize Rockford's descent into post-combat irrationality with relative coherency, but what commands our attention and sympathy is Maureen Yasko's carefully modulated performance in a role that proclaims its outcome at the play's very beginning, yet still succeeds in generating suspense over her welfare. This Babes With Blades Theatre Company production also features a supporting cast selected by director Elyse Dawson lending their generic dialogue a colloquial verisimilitude to generate a wholesome appeal, though the decision to have Rockford's demons portrayed by human actors at viewing ranges as close as those at City Lit should be reconsidered in future productions.

Playgoers looking for summer action-adventure excitement will find plenty of it in this saga of pioneering underdogs seeking the recognition bestowed upon our country's elite troops. Admit it: We never tire of cheering on/crying over heroes in uniform.


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