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THEATER REVIEW : War Is Heller in ‘We Bombed in New Haven’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most writers of anti-war plays and films are satisfied with simply showing what happens during war. Rarely do they delve into the military mind at work, its idiocy and the illogical beliefs that lead it to think it’s doing something worthwhile.

But Joseph Heller does in his “We Bombed in New Haven.” This neat, fun-filled little production at Orange Coast College’s Drama Lab underlines Heller’s quirky humor and the dead seriousness of his intent.

The military unit involved in the story (based, in this staging, in Costa Mesa), is, in reality, a group of actors, but the fine line between the lunatic war the soldiers are fighting and the equally silly struggle for survival by the actors is often blurred. Heller is saying that military minds are play-acting at the top and doing audience participation at the bottom.

Secret weapons turn out to be basketballs and footballs, placing macho sports on the same level as mass slaughter; rattles and pacifiers sooth the troops before their eventual end as cannon fodder.

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Director Rick Golson’s laughter can be discerned in his guidance of the cast through Heller’s fatalistic fun house. He knows his burlesque style and seems to have infused his actors with that understanding. When the script turns serious at moments, he and they make the transitions seamlessly.

Quintin Powell is Capt. Starkey, perhaps the sanest of the troop, and he provides the necessary emotional weight to make the role work. Equally into the style and at ease with the many shades of his character is Kenneth Ford as Sgt. Henderson, who fatalistically tries to go AWOL but is eventually brought back to his death on the orders of the stupid and brittle major, played crisply by Damon Hill.

Bryan Groskreutz is a strong Cpl. Bailey, who wants to replace Henderson as sergeant and actor after they bomb Minneapolis--they bombed in New Haven the previous week--for it is written in the major’s prompt script that Henderson will die. Kristina Leach is very funny and a little touching as the Army nurse who lusts after everyone but marries the captain and hungers for better lines.

Michael Rinke and Jackson Clay find the heart and sadness in a touching scene when Rinke’s private welcomes his 15-year-old brother as an enthusiastic and very naive replacement. In the play’s most poignant moment, Sean Leviton plays the captain’s son, who, to his father’s horror, is drafted and who blames his father for not stopping all this madness before he grew up.

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* “We Bombed in New Haven,” Drama Lab, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. $6 to $7. (714) 432-5880. Running time: 2 hours.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

“We Bombed in New Haven”

Damon Hill: The Major

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Quintin Powell: Capt. Starkey

Kenneth Ford: Sgt. Henderson

Bryan Groskreutz: Cpl. Bailey

Michael Rinke: Pvt. Fisher

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Kristina Leach: Ruth

Jackson Clay: Fisher’s kid brother

Sean Leviton: Starkey’s Son

An Orange Coast College department of theater arts production of Joseph Heller’s black comedy. Directed by Rick Golson. Scenic/lighting design: David Scaglione. Costume design: Donna Mae Dickens. Sound design: Michael Nottingham. Stage manager: Jamie Sweet.

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