In The Wound
September 7, 2010
Shotgun Players is a Berkeley-based theatre company that never stops innovating. A few years ago it was one of the first - if not the very first - company in the United States to switch to solar power 100%. And it's never scared to be bold in terms of its programming while usually maintaining high artistic standards.
The company manages to pursue these standards both for its indoor productions throughout the year at The Ashby Stage and for its outdoor productions each summer at John Hinkel Park in North Berkeley.
The current run of In The Wound, a new drama by Jon Tracy at John Hinkel Park is no exception. Instead of playing to most people's summery expectations of lighthearted Shakespeare and other romantic and/or fun-loving comedic fare, Shotgun Players is staging a violent adaptation of The Iliad. The production also sets itself apart from many others on the non-profit stage by having an enormous cast of more than 30 actors (the company's biggest cast size to date.) Tracy's production features committed performances and a strong sense of ensemble, especially during the forcefully choreographed fight scenes which make use of Taiko drumming and Asian war dances involving soldiers butting sticks and drums instead of swords and guns.
Yet for all that, I ended up feeling disappointed by In The Wound. I suppose the main issue I have with the production, which runs at weekends through October 3, is the writing. Here is yet another play which seems to say "war is bad" and little else. The language flits predictably (for a modern play about warfare with classical pretensions) between vaguely poetic cadences and slang. The characters only seem to have one dimension to them and the boomeranging structure of the drama is at times confusing. I couldn't really understand what was gained by flitting backwards and forwards through time in this telling of the story.
Still, I commend Shotgun Players for continuing to push boundaries in terms of its offerings and can only hope that the second Greek epic-inspired play that artistic director Patrick Dooley has commissioned from Tracy for the winter season, based on The Odyssey, will prove more inspiring in terms of the writing.