When comics share war stories, they tell tales of drunken hecklers or bombing on the road. For veteran stand-up comedian Jill Turnbow, who entertained U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm, the bombs were a real and present possibility, and hecklers were the least of her problems.
"Between Iraq and a Hard Place," at the Hudson Guild, is Turnbow's sidesplitting solo show about her wartime experiences aboard the Cunard Princess, a luxury liner moored in the Gulf. Sounds like a comfy gig--until Turnbow points out that war was looming on the horizon, and that masses of troops, fresh off hard duty in the desert, came storming aboard the ship in shifts, ready to party until they dropped.
So how best to handle these volatile young men, who hadn't seen a woman in months, and who had no idea of how long the pending conflict would last? "We turned 'em loose with an open bar and dancing girls," Turnbow wryly recounts. As she recalls it, the situation was a recipe for hilarity, with a hearty pinch of poignancy throw in. The feckless boys go off to the front and return as battle-seasoned men, while Turnbow undergoes her own transformation from ugly duckling to unlikely belle.
The contribution of servicewomen in the Gulf doesn't feature much in Turnbow's story. Aboard the Princess, the ratio of men to women was roughly 950 to 20, a daunting statistic for any woman. However, Turnbow triumphs over her trepidation, and later, over the constant expectation of missile attack. Through it all, her affection and gratitude for the U.S. troops is evident.
Directed by Mark Ankeny, Turnbow bops through her brief but heady reminiscence with pitch-perfect recall for delicious detail. Despite a shipboard romance that left her heartbroken, Turnbow was keenly aware that her wartime stint, however brief, was a peak experience of her lifetime.
For her audience, it's a peak as well--a heartening, harrowing and warmly comical glimpse into the nature of heroism and the patriotic bond among Americans connected by crisis and a common cause.
* "Between Iraq and a Hard Place," Hudson Guild Theater, 6543 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 15. $12. (323) 930-9304. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.