The 7 Stages Main Stage Theatre is located in the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta where many of its patrons are locals. Some might presume that the play Women + War currently put on by Synchronicity Theatre would be home to an anti-war agenda. However, the rationale behind this production, now in its second incarnation, is simply to use the authentic experiences of war from women in the local Atlanta area and present them to the public. Using a journalistic discipline the original ensemble compiled hours of interviews from survivors of conflicts all over the globe. The stories come from both contemporary military actions to as far back as the American Civil War.
These stories, voices, and messages are sometimes patriotic, sometimes bitter, but always sincere. Meanwhile, the potentially perilous combination of education and entertainment is carefully handled by director Rachel May. There is no denying the violence of war and in some ways the dance components of the play provide a relief from the horror described in the many short monologues. This works best when small, fluid actions illustrate the events being described. While the story of a Vietnamese-national-turned-C.I.A. spy is being recounted, the crucial objects in her tale are poetically displayed: the umbrella, the red sandals, the wooden mat, and most dramatically, her bag where a tape recording device was concealed.
Some audience members find the “transition collages” somewhat distracting. This term refers to the dance moments that string together the different vignettes and comprise everything from what resembles competition cheerleading to the “logroll” of beginner’s gymnastics. The constant motion contributes an element of chaos which does augment the nature of the war stories.
Women + War is a rather minimalist play, but the production design is effective and true asset to the experience. The multiple projection screens are put to good use adding photographs and video excerpts of the source interviews to scenes. A truly sublime moment happens midway through the performance when live video is introduced to the old footage blurring the lines between simulation and reality. Stones are used as props in various ways throughout the play, but this recurring conceit is mostly hit-or-miss depending on your taste.
With such a heavy use of monologue the players are the deciding factor toward the success and failure of the show. Luckily, the rapid dialogue is handled very competently. The cast worked well as an ensemble, with few exceptions. The portrayal of the Columbian sister and the Congo mother were especially powerful and believable. Unfortunately, some handling of foreign accents came across as disingenuous or even borderline racist. A white actress speaking in broken English seems unnecessary when there is not a consistent effort to mimic the source voices anyway.
While the current cast members of Women + War are completely different than the ensemble that collected these stories, this largely comes across as a benefit. According to Director May this production which clocked in at two non-stop hours had an hour of content removed from the original script. If the pitfall of collaboration is having too many cooks in the kitchen, the distance of five years and new players has actually improved, Women + War.
For a play to talk about war involving real accounts from soldiers and victims, one cannot help but consider what servicemen would feel about the production. Drill sergeants would certainly cringe at marching formations and unkempt uniforms, but the element of patriotism mostly excuse these liberties. To appreciate the show, one must remember that this is a theatre experience derived from life, but not fully limited by it.
Performances run through March 7, 2010
Thursday-Saturday @ 8 pm, Sunday @7 pm
Tickets $23 and $18; discounts for SYNCHRONICITY MEMBERS, students, seniors, and groups.
7 Stages Main Stage Theatre
1105 Euclid Avenue, Atlanta
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or Call 404.484.8636