"If the war was over then all the dead had been buried and all the prisoners had been released. Why shouldn't he be released too?" wonders the title character of Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun. While fighting for America in World War I, a shell blows off Johnny's arms, legs, and face, and robs him of his vision, hearing, smell, and taste. The novel takes place in his consciousness, blurring the line between dream and reality, as Johnny struggles to communicate with a world that has virtually forgotten him. Trumbo's tragic figure could be considered a metaphor for the condition known as shell shock, where soldiers returning from battle at that time had immobilizing bouts of panic, hallucinations, or even complete catatonia. This is the strange and mysterious subject matter that the Axis Company explores in the brilliant Not Yet Diagnosed (Nervous) 1918. In it, a group of soldiers attempt to figure out where they are, why they're there, and how to return home or to the front. Despite a vague familiarity with one another and their setting, no one seems to know exactly how he arrived.
The impressively realistic set design immediately transports the audience to a WWI bunker, rife with gas masks, cameras, and primitive communication equipment, and accented with a number of tunnels that lead to nowhere in particular. The sound (by Steve Fontaine) is limited to paranoia-inducing whispers of people and places, leading us to believe that all we need to do to escape is open our eyes.
The Axis Company members all put on strong performances as usual, with a particularly powerful showing by Margo Passalaqua, whose role is a not-quite-there presence. Passalaqua's androgyny not only makes her appear young enough to have fought in WWI but also lends her a haunting and innocent quality as she slips in and out of roles as a soldier and characters from lives once upon a time. No one else really recognizes her presence in the group, but she is almost constantly there, feeding the soldiers their lines (and sometimes completing them), which she does with a wonderful mixture of anger and melancholy.
Indeed, what makes Not Yet Diagnosed stand out from previous Axis productions is its arresting script. While it takes almost the exact same theme as last year's Hospital