THEATER | "Leave": Urban Samarai takes on Don't Ask Don't Tell

Photo by George M. Calger, courtesy Urban Samurai Productions

There's a lot to like about Matthew A. Everett's play, Leave, which is now being staged by Urban Samarai at the Sabes Jewish Community Center. There is poignant characterization, witty dialogue, passion, politics, and a lot of well-toned half-naked men making out. Set against the backdrop of Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the play tells the story of four gay men—two marines, an ex-army soldier, and "a marine wife"—whose lives get tangled together in a searing drama in the midst of war.

At the center of the story is Seth (Ryan Henderson), a young marine serving during wartime. Seth develops a code in order to write letters and speak to his partner, Nicholas (Jack C. Kloppenborg), without scrutiny—a code that is shared by Seth's mother, Anne (Tina Sigel), who is very supportive of her son being gay. Though Seth and Nicholas are very much in love, time apart strains their relationship, and both are tempted by other gay men in their lives: Nicholas by the sexy ex-Army officer Tyson (Derek Ewing), who was kicked out of the army for being gay and who works with him at the library, and Seth by a closeted fellow Marine, Jonas (James Doyle), who eventually bonds with Seth and tries to seduce him. Things get complicated when Seth and Jonas come home on leave: Tyson hooks up with Seth, and then certain secrets are revealed and feelings are hurt. It's all a bit soap opera-y, but it's written with such an earnestness interspliced with comic zingers that the melodrama never gets too over the top. The actors are all fantastic and play off each other really well.

leave, presented at the sabes jewish community center through february 26. for tickets ($14/$16) and information, see urbansamurai.org.

But really, it's not a play about infidelity. Adding to the interpersonal dramas are the psychological problems felt by the Marines, particularly Seth, as a consequence of killing and living through war. On top of that, the strain of trying to keep their sexual identity a secret causes frustration both for the two marines, but also for Nicholas, as Seth's partner, and Tyson, who found that he couldn't live the double life that the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy required.

At times the play got a little too expositional: it worked best when the political message was lived through the lives of the characters rather than pointed at in discourse. The play might have been a bit shorter if they had cut some of the policy-dialogue out, which I think would have served the play better, since it seemed long.

Erica Zaffarano has designed a notable set for the show, in which a flag is painted on the floor.  (See Everett's very funny reaction to the set on his Daily Planet blog.)  The back wall has three bolts of fabric that lighting designer Grant E. Merges lights with red, white, and blue. The flag imagery provides a bold statement that constantly reminds the audience that in our country that is supposedly the land of the free, we have discriminated against those who protect that freedom if they happen to be gay or lesbian.

The play does take the audience for an emotional ride, and provides a look at the complexity of the gays in the military issue in an intelligent, impactful way. Matthew Greseth's directorial hand has pulled some great performances out of the actors. Leave is well worth seeing.

4330 Cedar Lake Rd. S.
Saint Louis Park, MN 55416
952-381-3400

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    Sheila Regan's picture
    Sheila Regan

    Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.

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    A moving and memorable show

    I saw the play on Monday night, and I found it to be very involving. It's educational in the best way: not in a simplistic finger-wagging way (look at the suffering! shame, shame, etc.) but in a complex, nuanced manner that reveals many moral shades.

    The characters feel real and absorbing, and the potentially didactic tone of some scenes is softened by the fact that Matthew considers the dilemma that confronts many who seek social change: is it ethical to participate in a faulty system and work change from the inside, or is one compelled to leave the system entirely and try to force change from the outside?

    The romantic conflicts are a little tidy, I agree—with only four characters, you can kind of see the hookups coming—but as a straight man, I learned a lot from, and was quite moved by, this very up-close (literally and emotionally), honest, detailed, tough, and convincingly authentic depiction of gay relationships. Kudos to everyone involved.