UNION, NJ - “Soldier’s Heart,” an original pay by Tammy Ryan, brings a searing story to life about the high cost of war, especially when a young woman goes off to Iraq to fight for her country.
Casey (Mairin Lee) has signed up for the Marines, thinking nothing could be nobler than fighting for her country. But she leaves behind her 10-year-old son, Sean, (Azlan Landry) in the care of her mother and the child’s father, who lives elsewhere. It all looks joyful and positive in the beginning, when Casey explains Sean’s routine to her mother and how she will Skype and record bedtime stories for him.
Kim Zimmer as her mother, Margie, is more than willing to do her share, but realizes she’s no substitute for the child’s mother. Sean’s father, Kevin (Benton Greene) served in the military earlier and has his own disturbing memories of fighting.
But Casey is mostly thrown by the advances of her commander, Baines, who demands sex as part of her duties. Michael Colby Jones is the rugged, good-looking officer who manages to pit Casey against the one other woman in the unit, Hernandez, convincingly portrayed by Erica Camarano. Landon G. Woodson is Staff Sergeant Williams. In fact, all the performances are strong, especially Lee’s shattering portrayal in attempting to re-enter civilian life.
When Casey returns, she is a changed woman, fearful and edgy, trying to find solace in alcohol and refusing to see her son. She even missed his birthday and won’t go to the 4th of July fireworks with him.
Eventually, some of these issues are resolved, but not without a lot of heartbreak.
Ryan’s play could border on political views (why were we there in the first place?) or the Veterans Administration’s indifference to returning soldiers. But neither of these themes have a place in this story. It’s all about relationships: what you give up in times of war and how families are destroyed in the process. Casey has nightmares about a young Iraqi boy, played by Zane King Beers.
The play is effectively directed by John J. Wooten, never losing focus or strong pacing. Joseph Gourley’s set design of a spacious living room, with area delineated by sand for a desert and other shifting scenes. Nadine Charlsen’s lighting is especially striking, with shades of red for the threatening military presence. Janie Bullard’s sound design includes pulsating music during interludes between scenes. Karen Hart’s costumes work well, especially the military paraphernalia.
In all, this is a disturbing, topical production, building on the terror and sacrifices that never-ending wars entail.
Performances continue through July 27. For tickets, call (908) 737-7469 or visit kean.edu/premierestages. Premiere Stages is located on the Kean University campus in Union.