‘American Hero’ pulses with tension, clashing emotions at George Street

By Liz Keill

NEW BRUNWICK – The issue of social injustice makes its way into “American Hero,” the second play in a trilogy by Christopher Demo-Brown.

Sign Up for E-News

Armand Schultz as Rob is to receive a medal of honor for his heroic actions during the Iraq war. Although he lost the use of his legs, he made it home to be with his daughter, who will soon go to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Kally Duling as the daughter has the sass for the part, although by the end of the play you can see her perspective changing.

This is all due to Mary, played with vigor by Lainona Michelle. We learn that she saved Rob, who was injured during the fighting. But a later scene shows Rob interrogating an Iraqi woman in what must be water boarding.  And there are questions about those actions.

The play shifts back and forth in time and location, starting with soldiers fighting, bombs exploding and machine gun fire. Then Rob is visited by various military men, all played by John Bolger.  The general announces how proud he is of Rob’s actions and that he will be set for life because of winning the medal of honor.

But when Mary visits his home back in the states, we learn that there was more to this heroic act than anyone realized. She has been blamed for the treatment of the Iraqi woman and was discharged from the service, basically leaving her penniless. She asks Rob to intervene for her, which is the emotional center of this taut, 95-minute production.  Michelle’s devastating performance builds in intensity as the truth comes out.

The play has a lot to say about the way veterans are treated and how our perceptions may be misleading.  David Saint has directed the production with seamless attention to its pacing and personalities. David Murin’s costumes, Christopher J. Bailey’s lighting, Scott Killians sound design and Jason Simms versatile set help keep us constantly engages.

Saint notes that the American Theatre Critics Association has awarded the play a Citation of Merit.  In an interview, playwright Demos-Brown has said he likes characters who make choices he doesn’t expect, language that shifts registers on a dime and contemporary American speech heightened with poetry. He brings all this and more to a disturbing, thought provoking view of war and its aftermath. This riveting production explores the price paid by those in the military in defending our freedoms.

“American Hero” continues at George Street Playhouse through Feb. 25. For tickets, call 732-246-7717 or visit GeorgeStreet Playhouse.org.