"Facts are better than truth, and revenge is better than sorrow," declares Mejra, a self-appointed figure of redemption. But are there limits to vengeance? Can we ever fully pay for our crimes? When Saddam Hussein was executed this month, many of his victims' families rejoiced. But for all their glee, it is finally impossible to completely undo war's heinous crimes, and even the death of a killer did nothing to bring back the lives that were lost. Canadian playwright Colleen Wagner tackles the potent themes of redemption, crime, and consequence in The Monument, which is being chillingly presented by Clockwork Theater under the stalwart direction of Beverly Brumm. A soldier waiting for his execution is suddenly granted a second chance when a mysterious woman appears and pronounces herself his savior. The only catch: he must obey her every command for the rest of his life.
Stetko, the young soldier, gratefully accepts Mejra's offer, and she brings him back to her home in a relentlessly devastated land. But instead of inviting him inside, she chains him in her yard like a dog and beats him mercilessly.
It seems that Mejra wants Stetko (whom she callously dubs "Stinko") to atone for the horrific deeds to which he confessed, including the rape and murder of at least 23 girls. Rather than paint him as a crazed murderer, however, Wagner reveals a complex man whose insanity has been manufactured by the machinations of war. Stetko—whose relationship with his own girlfriend has yet to be consummated—claims that the other soldiers forced him to participate in their nightmarish death campaign and that his own survival was dependent on his ability to play his part.
He admits, however, that he lost this ability to perform when confronted by the innocent, imprisoned faces of young girls, but although he remained sexually impotent, he assiduously faked his way through his obligations.
Exactly what Mejra requires from Stetko is not immediately obvious, but a powerful secret looms behind her tortured, hollow eyes and beneath the mounds of earth that cover Efren Delgadillo Jr.'s artfully barren set.
As the unlikely confidants, Jay Rohloff and Ramona Floyd turn in commanding and decisive performances. As Stetko, Rohloff is particularly gripping when immobilized in an electric chair in the opening scene. With his muscular body coiled and inert, he conveys bravado, fear, and remorse in his beefy voice and gasping breath. Floyd is unflappable as the steely Mejra, and she smartly calibrates her performance to gradually reveal shards of her hysterical grief.
In many ways, the plot is as convoluted and confusing as a battlefield; locations and nationalities are deliberately ambiguous and imprecise, ostensibly to emphasize the universality of war and its often sadistic power dynamics. Unfortunately, this is often frustrating from the audience's perspective, and it is difficult to place the events in a satisfying and relevant context.
Yet the script doesn't shy away from a very visceral display of war's gruesome horrors, and Wagner boldly leads her actors to the very edge of their emotions. Floyd and Rohloff—a former student of Brumm's when she taught acting at SUNY New Paltz—approach their roles with confidence and grace. And Benjamin C. Tevelow's exquisite lighting emphasizes the dreamy, trance-like qualities of the play's world, where streaks of sunlight hover above a land in which pain and grief are no longer surprising. On this lonesome terrain, Stetko and Mejra construct an eerie monument that memorializes war's deadly price with the bodies of its often unheard victims.