Women at War | Rivendell Theatre | Theater & Performance | Chicago Reader

Women at War Closing (Theater and Galleries) The Short List (Theater) Image

When: Wednesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Dec. 6 2014

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble's Tara Mallen has done such a fine job of staging this new play by Megan Carney—rendered it so sharp, smart, and accessible, so painful and buoyant by turns—that it's hard to hate. And yet I've got to say I hate Women at War. Based on interviews with veterans, the 75-minute piece follows nine women from the first day of boot camp through their deployments to Iraq and back home afterward. It ably and vividly gets at a whole slew of issues facing female soldiers in particular (rape, sexual extortion, etc) and members of our armed forces in general (isolation, mortal danger, fucked-up medical care, etc). The cast make their characters engaging in ways that transcend conventional shorthand descriptions like "career officer" or "ghetto kid looking for a way out." Just watching them drill—marching meets hip-hop in Rivendell's tiny performance space—can leave you awestruck. So then what's my problem? My problem is just this: that, for all its honesty about the ugliness, danger, and inequity of military life (indeed, by means of that honesty), Women at War sentimentalizes its soldiers as citizen warriors who did the job they were called upon to do in the second Iraq war and therefore deserve a nation's thanks. The show never allows as how the job itself was specious, and only fleetingly acknowledges the gratuitous slaughter it entailed. Along with the all-volunteer army, eulogizing veterans has become a technique for selling America's wars. It's the love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin concept taken a step farther—to love the sinner, excuse the sin. If the United States had a system of universal service, there'd be no basis for judging those who serve. We'd all be in it together. But what we have now is basically a mercenary arrangement, and that makes judgment a duty. Women at War has a good heart; it wants to show compassion for women who've been to hell and back. But in doing so it slides past the question of their culpability. —Tony Adler

Price: $35, $32 in advance

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