This Week in Theater
Written by Tommy Smith
Review by Rose Desena
I feel safe in saying that war is damaging, to those who are forced to participate and to society itself. Tommy Smith’s play, “Firemen,” explores the impact of war on ordinary families. Set in 1991 during the war in Iraq. America is glued to CNN news watching wide-eyed as missiles slammed into their doomed targets. In “Firemen” the writer Tommy Smith wants to show how two “single mother” homes are affected by the war.
A young high school boy suffering the absence of a father and a mousy insecure secretary, who works at his school, develop a less than socially acceptable relationship. Both of these characters are very damaged. It is not clear whether that is a result of Violence in society or the fact Bens Farther abandoned him.
Susan (Rebecca Gray) does an outstanding job as the weak-willed protagonist, who doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of her actions. Is it the dark cloud that hangs over a country when war and fear seep into its core? Is that what is responsible for Susan’s fearless irresponsibility which certainly will not end well for anyone involved?
Ben is angry, full of misguided hostile energy. Is that due to the lack of a father or can we blame the war that glorified violence. He hates his mother but we don’t have enough information on their relationship to know why. He also rejects the male authority figures of his school. Anne (Amanda Saunders), Ben’s mom, is lost and struggling with her own feelings of emptiness. With her coping abilities in overdrive, she fails to notice his declining mental state.
What is interesting here is that Ben lived in a home without a TV; it was a conscious decision on his mom’s part not to have one because she thought it was full of garbage that corrupts? Very true, but he still was one screwed up kid.
Kyle (Zach Callison), Susan’s young son, is the real victim. His mother’s boyfriend is a fireman, an absent character, but seems to play a significant role. However, it wasn’t clear exactly what that role was. Kyle is a gentle soul, a little nerdy perhaps but non-combative. He is a lonely boy who loves board games and avoids sports. He does not stand up for himself even after Ben molests him.
I can’t agree that Ben’s tormented state of mind was just caused by an absent farther, or the prime-time war, although its entirely possible, it’s just too vague in this production. Ben does decline further as his relationship with Susan continues. He is confused by his role in her life, which is to be expected. He sees her as the women he wants for a mother and the lover he lusts for. What is clear is that both Ben and Susan are morally and emotionally bankrupt. What or who is to blame?
Smith really shines at creating characters whose appalling behavior can absolutely unnerve an audience of morally responsible adults. Perhaps the playwright’s point was that war puts a sense of despair over us when violence is so prevalent in a society.
I still can’t figure out why it’s called “Firemen,” but that being said I definitely did not turn away from the stage…even for a second. Oddly enough it works.
The acting by each and every cast member was magnificent. Actually, it was some of the best acting that I have seen outside of a full Equity production. Chris Fields directs the cast with a stellar precision, making this a very intriguing and interesting production. As a body of work, it is excellent.
I would take a chance on this; it’s well staged and worth seeing. I have to admit it made for some great conversation on the way home. It is not impossible that we have all been shell-shocked by the last 20 years of war.
I wish the Echo Theater Company the best in their new location and look forward to a good season ahead.
Written by Tommy Smith
Directed by Chris Fields
Starring Ian Bamberg, Zach Callison, Rebecca Gray, Michael McColl, Amanda Saunders
Presented by The Echo Theater Company
Cast: Rebecca Gray, Michael McColl, Amanda Saunders, Ian Bamberg, Zach Callison .
Closes, March 16
Fridays at 8 p.m. Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 7 p.m.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village, CA 90039
310-307-3753 or www.EchoTheaterCompany.com