Despite temporal and spatial distances, Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Vietnam, and most recently Ground Zero share something unique. In addition to being sites of pivotal conflicts and horrendous losses of life, they are places that enter history through a peculiar practice perhaps best labeled "battlefield tourism." In a tangled web of commerce, nationalism, and mourning, former battlefields are transformed into sanitized, consumable tourist locales. The destruction and murder of the past become a showpiece and presumed lesson for the present.
The Wreckio Ensemble's impressive production of Gravediggers takes on battlefield tourism, and the wars that precede it, in the most satirical of ways. Collaboratively developed by the ensemble and written and directed by Karly Maurer, Gravediggers offers an enjoyable, if sometimes ranting, riff on the commerce of war.
In a land not unlike Iraq, two women gravediggers (Michelle Diaz and Dechelle Damien), dressed head to foot in black and sporting mouth-contorting headgear, dump body after body into a pit. The profoundly bleak set (also by Damien) is scattered with white building blocks that ooze the body parts of fallen soldiers. The personless appendages are painted an eerily vibrant green, like fresh grass.
But that's not the only fresh thing in this land of death. An entrancingly lush, red object is growing from a tree over the pit, and later hatches into Phoenix, played by Tara Grieco. The starving gravediggers thirst for the object's richness, but it is soon stolen away by an opulently maniacal woman, Mother (a hilarious Randi Berry), in a feather boa-lined coat. Oana Botez-Ban's creative costumes are both enigmatic and a treat for the eyes.
Mother's effete son, petulantly played by Nicholas Bixby, is a draft dodger who falls in love with a corpse (Dimitra Bixby) that he manipulates like a puppet. Son's monologue, on how the "unthinkable" nature of war fosters blind spots of inhumanity, is admirable, but this is also where Gravediggers begins to go awry: the surrealism becomes literal, and ridiculous satire slips into pedantic theatrics.
"Don't be absurd!" one gravedigger screams to the other. "That's the only way I know how to be!" the other responds. The show's self-referencing is clever. If only it were true and consistent. Gravediggers' slippage from the abstract to the obvious is no more apparent than in the character of Rep, the capitalist war entrepreneur ably played by Benjamin Spradley.
Here, Rep, a tie-and-suit embodiment of war profiteering, bombastically preaches about his conquests, including a barely veiled allegory about two escaped chickens. Little room is left for the viewer to make his or her own connections to today's geopolitical climate. Gravediggers does not leave much work for the audience. Rather than staying in the realm of surrealist ridiculousness and undermining accepted beliefs, the show gets in its own way and points to its own immediacy. Without this, an otherwise brilliant production would stand on its own.
More baffling is the ensemble's self-branded actor-babble concept of "Physical Realism" outlined in the program. Employing contradictory clich