Martial Plans

The plot summary for Bekah Brunstetter’s ambitious new play suggests that Oohrah! could be a timely social document about the difficulties of adjusting to home life for U.S. troops who have spent long stretches of time in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the author, trying to tell several stories at once that are centered at Fort Bragg (although it is not mentioned, the nearby city of Fayetteville, N.C., is), ends up with a disjointed domestic drama. Sara (Jennifer Mudge) is an Army wife with a teenage daughter; her husband, Ron, is a captain who has just returned from Iraq service (played by Darren Goldstein as a laconic pillar of strength). The loving but apprehensive Sara wants Ron to settle down, and he does want to, but she pushes so hard for him to find work that he’s not interested in, or is unsuited to, that she sabotages their hopes.

Ironically, Sara’s sister, Abby, living in the house to keep Sara company, is also doing some emotional demolition work. A flight attendant, Abby is engaged to a civilian, Chris (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), who has a job in security at the local airport. Surrounded by a warrior class, the laid-back Chris believes his uniform carries the same weight as those of combat troops, but he’s deluded. (Near-Verbrugghe excels at playing this sympathetic patsy, who has a warm and constant heart.) Though Abby continually tells Chris she loves him, she doesn’t, at least not with the physical passion a spouse must have. It seems her real attraction is to testosterone-fueled men wearing uniforms. Set designer Lee Savage nicely delineates the sisters’ differences with a two-level set. Sara’s crisis involves the hearth, or the seat of home life, represented by a modern, blond-wood kitchen; Abby’s yearnings involve the bedroom on the upper level.

On a flight into Fayetteville, Abby latches on to a Marine corporal, Chip (Maximilian Osinski), and maneuvers him into coming to dinner at Sara’s. “I love the Marine uniform,” she tells him. “So regal. So much better than the Army uniform. You look like something from a really good book.” Eventually she gets him to stay overnight, and seduces him, though he’s less willing than she’d prefer.

Director Evan Cabnet hasn’t been able to fuse all the elements, which include two other family members, to create a cohesive whole. Although there’s a linear symmetry to the plotting—combat hero Ron stands at one end, a man who knows himself and his needs, and the clueless civilian Chris at another, while Chip holds an agonizing middle position—Abby and Chris’s story is much stronger than the others.

The homebody Sara, played with a bottled desperation by Mudge, can't match the interest sparked by her lustful sister: Cassie Beck as the duplicitous Abby is as riveting as a snake. Even after Chris sees her making a pass at someone else, he believes her when she says she loves him. The twists of her plotline alone deserve an “Oohrah!” (a call that military men make to each other to honor their status). And, to her credit, Brunstetter has done homework that many playwrights fail to do; she understands the difference in dress and address of officers vs. NCOs.

As a piece of social observation, though, Oohrah! contains no revelations. It’s merely a snapshot of an awkward situation, not a problem for which the author offers a solution. And although the two sisters occupy the ostensibly more important stories, the climax comes when Ron and Chris bond awkwardly. The crux of the women's problems is the men's heartfelt need—whether it’s to serve their country or to fulfill their masculine identity is uncertain, but the urge strikes as deep as the bonds of matrimony.

“It’s not that I don’t love them,” Ron tells Chip. “I love them so much…. It’s just I got other things to give.” Such a sentiment may have no rational explanation, and perhaps that’s the reason why, despite the talent of the performers, the play leaves one unsatisfied.

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