Down Range, written by Jeffrey Skinner and directed by Trish Minskoff, is not a traditional war story. This is not a play solely about the glory – or about the horrors – of life on the battlefield. Rather, it lets the war experience unravel from the homefront perspective, presenting its audience with the effects of war on military families. The play poignantly depicts returning war veterans and abandoned army wives and widows, reminding us all that the pain and suffering wreaked by war are not contained by the borders of any war zone. The story moves back and forth through time. Early on, we learn that Doc, one of the two soldiers that the play focuses on, has died. Frank, his best friend and fellow soldier, must accompany his remains home. On the journey, Frank is visited by Doc’s ghost, who pulls him out of this present moment and back into the past. From here, the piece operates as a memory play, showing us war scenes and domestic scenes alike. The central emphasis for the play is the bond of friendship that develops between the two men and their respective wives.
The play is marked by moments of great poetry. In particular, the direct audience address monologues from Doc and Frank about the war are moving. Disappointingly, the piece is a bit inconsistent; some of the “real life” scenes of domestic bliss and marital drama do not ring as true as the more abstract poetic moments.
The lighting, designed by John Tees, III, is worthy of note in its own right – it is evocative, creating a mood for the piece from the moment the audience enters the theater space and sustaining an all-encompassing theatrical experience from there. The light cues smoothly take us in and out of each moment, making the slippages through time seem natural and effortless. The lighting design also works beautifully with the compelling set, which is neither altogether realistic nor entirely minimalistic. The set suggests where the characters are but maintains a war motif throughout. These individuals are never free from the war, no matter where they go.
The story could benefit from some streamlining. The plot, centering on a fairly complex narrative about the intersections of these four lives, could be simpler. The events are told in and out of linear time, as previously mentioned, which is, on occasion, difficult to follow. The performances are all fine; of note is Steve Sherman who plays the CAO, a character not directly involved in the social drama of the two couples. Sherman effectively evokes the strict rules and regulations of a life governed by military dictates in the way he enacts his duties on stage with precision and concentration.
Despite some flaws, however, Down Range is poignant and relevant as well as provocative and effective. This is a play about the realities of military life and about the human effects of war. The final scene is both shocking and touching and it leaves an impression that will not soon be forgotten. This is important theater; it carries reminders about what war is like for those who truly live it everyday. It is a story that deserves to be heard.