A Folded Flag

Whether it be adaptations of Shakespeare and Arthur Miller or new work, it's no surprise that war is a recurring theme in contemporary American theatre. Given the successful propaganda campaign conducted by the corporate media and the resultant dissipation of any coherent protests à la our better-informed French brethren, it falls upon the theatre to provide a dramatic means of raising consciousness. Yet it is a rare playwright that can blend art and political critique without sounding didactic or appearing contrived.

In the world premiere of A Folded Flag, James R. Cannon (Sports Talk 2000; Blind Spots; Bobology) conjures a number of potentially compelling characters and thematic questions that fail to connect with one another and produce a coherent story line and substantive catharsis.

Will Brown as Jack, Patty Mintz Figel as Abbey, and Travis Goodman as Jimmy
(L to R) Will Brown as Jack,
Patty Mintz Figel as Abbey,
and Travis Goodman as Jimmy
Photo: Brian Miller
To be sure, the play has its moments, but their effectiveness is muted at every turn. Patty Mintz Figel, as an often delirious Abbey Grigson on her deathbed, is prevented, by bad lighting cues, pulled punches in her emotional showdown with her husband Jack, and disturbingly inconsistent writing, from transporting us into a collective dream state and delivering a redeeming memory play. Since this wasn't a comedy and since Abbey and her hospital bed were the central characters, we could naturally expect some sort of catharsis or transformation or at least some insight on her part, but no such change was forthcoming. What makes this untenable is that she had a rich dream life, so the lack of healing is indeed a cynical and basically faithless view of human potential.

Our next opportunity for some sort of enlightening observation is her son Jimmy's growth from a disempowered child into a man of principles, but here, too, a strong performance by Travis Goodman is squandered as Jimmy's commitment to his art and his emerging pacifist world view are truncated by his disappearance from the stage, particularly at the end, when a telling monologue could have delivered the goods.

Patty Mintz Figel as Abbey and Paul Page as Ben
Patty Mintz Figel as Abbey
and Paul Page as Ben
Photo: Brian Miller
This leaves only her youngest son Ben, who's upbringing in the aftermath of Jimmy's sacrifice leaves him an emotional orphan to Abbey's and Jack's contrasting brands of denial. Here, Paul Page's thoughtful work also runs into storyline issues that define his transformation more in terms of getting a date with his mother's nurse than in coming to grips with what should be a striking re-examination of his identity.

Theresa Reid as Erin and Patty Mintz Figel as Abbey
Theresa Reid as Erin and
Patty Mintz Figel as Abbey
Photo: Brian Miller

Other characters are unnecessarily marginalized as well. Will Brown finds Jack's backbone, but the script never gives him the opportunity to address his wife's accusations. Theresa Reid's eyes rival her lines in doing double-duty as the mellifluous Irish nurse, Erin, and Jimmy's gentle sweetheart, Sarah Zimmerman. This is more than a casting efficiency; it is an opportunity to draw obvious parallels between the two sons' romantic lives; but it is an opportunity that is never adequately provided in the script. Sheri Davis' double-casting as the golden-hearted Jesse Zimmerman is not only undermined by the unnecessary plot turn in which Jesse and her husband Jacob express an out-of-character alienation and loss of compassion, but also by saddling her alter-ego, nurse Nancy, with an incident that is a complete red-herring to the plot.

There are significant other issues, including: a rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" that has no resonance with the Grigson family's behavior nor in the historical setting; the tie-ins between Ben's unmarried life and his emotional disconnect from his parents is never established; awkward staging in the always cramped John Hand space, with the detailed dining room hardly used; actors often talking past one other or to audience—diluting the emotional connection between characters and failing to ring true to the called-for dysfunction in these specific scenes; and, in general, too often telling not showing—spelling it out rather than letting the audience connect the dots. Throw in Joe Wilson's miscasting as Jacob Zimmerman and we are left with a lot of "what ifs."

Night Hawk Productions' A Folded Flag, directed by Christopher Leo, runs through July 8th at the John Hand Theatre at Lowry. 303-562-3232.

Bob Bows


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