Minnesota Fringe Festival: The Bunker

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SHOW TITLE: The Bunker

PRODUCER: BERW Productions

HAILING FROM: Minneapolis

SHOW DESCRIPTION: A Marine brings the Gulf War home with him and finds relief in prescription drugs, denial and contemplating suicide. With the aid of his doctor he realizes the deepest scars are those not seen.

So this is a military drama, which is one of my favored genres. Moreover, the programme mentions that the playwright is a vet himself, which further piques my interest. I can’t get enough of these stories, the stories of ordinary men being measured against intense (or often interminably dull) scenarios.

That said, my inclination towards the genre wars against the overarching convention that this script uses. The psychiatrist’s couch, like the Catholic confessional or the courtroom, I find to be perilous settings for character drama. They’re just too on-the-nose for my tastes – the notion that the best way to explicate hidden character motives is…to have characters explain their hidden motives to one another?

The content of the script is interesting, and I found myself wanting to know what the characters would discuss next – but I found these actors to be, perhaps, miscast with this material. The easy, confrontational naturalism that the script seems to demand was played against performances that seemed strangely stiff, formal, heightened. I had the impression that this script was not showcasing the best of what these actors could do – and that these actors were not the best possible interpreters of this material.

More dismaying, the script follows nearly every trope of the psychological drama – the psychiatrist digs until he hits the goldmine of childhood trauma, at which point the patient steps forward and delivers a heartfelt monologue to the audience – and then sits down, while the psychiatrist lays out a detailed exegesis of the character’s hidden depths to him. The reason this device is so perilous is because it completely does away with subtext, does away with any need for the audience to do the satisfying analytical work on their own, and replaces it with something that is very hard to not interpret as an authorial voice.

The most interesting aspect of this – and, hey, spoilers ahoy – is the notion that life in a combat zone, in addition to damaging the men who inhabit one, also resurrects the hidden damage that they bring with them – which is one of the key reasons that so many veterans respond in such different ways.

This is a compelling notion. I’m not sure that it was sufficient to sustain the production, in this instance, but I certainly don’t regret having encountered it.

Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!

phillip andrew bennett low is a Chinese-American playwright and poet, storyteller and mime, theatre critic and libertarian activist. His performances have won acclaim from Minneapolis to Chicago, DC to LA — even as far as Melbourne, Australia. He is the co-founder of the Rockstar Storytellers and was founder and producer of the touring theatre troupe Maximum Verbosity. He has published a book of political humor, Indecision Now! A Libertarian Rage, and will be presenting his own show in the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival, The Secret Book of Jesus.

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