The Hooch | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Hooch, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. "The cleverest trap is the one you don't see," an old sergeant tells the latest arrival to Vietnam's combat zone. "That's the one you got to look out for." Charles Michael Moore wrote this tale of men at war in 1978, but the action is set in 1968, the year of Martin Luther King's assassination. That home front skirmish haunts the troops inhabiting a rough-and-ready jungle barracks--called a hooch in Vietnamese--in the form of a shape-shifting dream demon who calls forth their personal nightmares, inciting them to destroy themselves and one another.

Casual allusions to events now three decades old and Moore's inclusion of fantasy sequences in an otherwise realistic narrative demand a somewhat greater suspension of disbelief than is customary at ETA. But Moore's message--that the key to survival lies in acknowledging one's fears--is no less true today than it was in 1968 or 1978: wars between individuals recognize no armistice.

The cast of this revival, also directed by Moore, were probably not yet born when the war ended. But they draw on their actorly skills to create convincing characters in an accurate context. Particularly impressive are Kem Saunders as the short-timer Private Brown, Edward Dzialo as the alcohol-fogged Lance Corporal Blankenship, and Dori Ling, who switches characters with no more than a change of facial expression or vocal range, as the protean specter of discord.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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