PTSD, Danish Style: Home Sweet Home at PS122

In the United States, where the field is crowded with plays about the veterans of wars from WWII to Vietnam to Iraq, the bar is set high for plays about those damaged by war. So the Scandinavian American Theatre Company is not in an enviable position in bringing Andreas Garfield’s Home Sweet Home to New York audiences. The play does not overcome this handicap, despite able direction by Christopher Berdal, a set fashioned amusingly from cardboard boxes by Marte Johanne Ekhougen, and an energetic cast of three (Brian Smolin as Kim; Albert Bendix as Carsten, the vet returning from Iraq and Kim’s best friend; and Lisa Pettersson, also its translator, as Iben, Kim’s girlfriend). Kim and Iben have invited to dinner Kim’s childhood friend Carsten, now an early-thirties career officer who just returned from Iraq. Even with their stuff still in boxes and their newly bought house still under construction, they do their best to make the evening special, and Kim, both anxious and excited, cautions Iben not to challenge Carsten’s participation in the Iraq war. Carsten’s arrival (in full dress uniform) and his increasingly erratic behavior over dinner leads to the tragic ending we might expect from a play entitled Home Sweet Home.

The playwright seems most at home with the uncomfortable dynamic of two old friends whose years apart do not easily lead to renewed common interests. Both are performing – posturing, really – for Iben, who for her part jumps at the first opening Carsten gives her to challenge him on his participation in the war. All this raises tensions and hints at traumatic events in Carsten’s past, but Garfield is on less certain ground here and leaves much of Carsten’s experience wrapped in vague suggestions, making it difficult for us to understand the climax of the play.

The extensive use of video projections also makes the play less harrowing than it might be. By filming important scenes rather than finding a way to present them full-bodied in real time on the stage, the writer and director eliminate the element of changeability and spontaneous creation that make theater "theater" and not cinema. This is especially true of the play's climax, which is projected rather than performed. While I can appreciate the narrative efficiency of this move, it removes the heat of immediacy and leaves us, for no aesthetic or intellectual reason, watching the representation of a representation, and thus distanced from its emotional power.

Home Sweet Home takes the horrors of war and their aftermath, both national and personal, and renders them distant by its dominant production device of a cool newsmagazine rendition. The dramatic presentation of the characters, their motives, and their emotions could be much more engaging. That it is an Iraq-war-inspired play originating in Denmark could be of great interest to American audiences. This aspect, however, is not dramatized in this production.

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