How can you tell that what you see is real? So ponders Frank Hasek, a twenty-first century rendering of the character Woyzeck, created by Georg Buchner. Private Hasek, the protagonist of Reservoir, by Eric Henry Sanders, is a not a relic of a bygone era. Rather, he is a very real and a very realistic product of contemporary combat. The play's greatest strength is its text. Sanders has done a truly commendable job of retelling this tale for a modern-day audience. We meet Frank after he has returned from his tour of duty. He attempts to readjust to his life at home in light of his horrific wartime experiences: his relationship with his girlfriend, his place in the Army, and even his sense of control over himself hang in the balance. As he succumbs to PTSD, his ability to cope with the world around him slowly but surely deteriorates. Due to his loss of mental clarity, he finds it difficult to convince himself of what he should believe and what are merely figments of his addled mind.
The story is told in an episodic manner, as was its source material. The director, Hamilton Clancy, has found subtle but useful ways of keeping this structure from being either overly distancing or too confusing. Through simple devices such as turning on a household light fixture when in a domestic space or displaying cheap flowers when in a doctor's office, it is always clear where the characters are in any given scene.
In addition to telling a meaningful and affecting story about the horrors of war and the effects that participating in combat have on the average soldier, the play also presents powerful and evocative poetic language. Single lines stand out as clear explanations of concepts and emotions that would otherwise need pages of dialogue to convey. The weight of what is being discussed is never lost, not even in the few terse moments of comedic release. It is always clear that what is being discussed is important and worth hearing, no matter how painful it might be to listen to.
The design aesthetic maintains the dark mood of the text while highlighting the plot points in interesting ways. The set is simple, made up of only a few chairs and stools and some chicken wire, and yet it is capable of evoking myriad locations. The chicken wire, in particular, gives the sense of entrapment that the characters are experiencing. Frank may no longer be "in country" but he is never far from being surrounded by its effects. The lighting completes the ambiance, using dim lighting to solidify the tone of the piece and then contrasting it with the unnatural brightness of some interior locales.
The performances are, in general, good. Alessandro Colla gives a compelling and empathetic representation of Frank Hasek. In addition, Karla Hendrick is worth mentioning for her turn as the therapist. She does an impressive job of conveying the internal turmoil of being someone who wants to help and who understands her patients' struggles and someone who is under the thumb of the U.S. Military hierarchy. Her struggle throws into relief the idea that Hasek may only be the product of a system; perhaps he never was in control of his own fate or identity at all.
Overall, Reservoir has the potential to be a really significant work of theater. There are moments of great poignancy in the piece. The play presents a disturbing reality in a way that forces its audiences to pay attention. This is assuredly a play to see and believe.