It must be said: Theater is doing a heckuva better job than Hollywood at creating meaningful dramas about the Iraq war. Maybe it's because the under-the-radar nature of theater companies lets them take risks and make bold statements. Or maybe it's because the theater, which has always valued ideas over adrenaline, is a natural medium for such a complicated subject.
Jeanette Scherrer's "March On, Dream Normal" is a deceptively modest account of one soldier's failure to assimilate into civilian life. Twice stop-lossed Jim Krupa (Brett Nichols) is suffering from nightmares while recuperating at his parents' house in suburban St. Louis. Over the course of a few weeks, he seeks treatment at a VA hospital, applies for a job at the local firehouse and hangs out with his pregnant sister-in-law (Shannon Nelson).
Produced by Lucid by Proxy, "March On" takes a naturalistic approach to quotidian life, allowing banal moments to take precedence over big dramatic scenes. A sociological meditation on blue-collar Americana, the play evokes a world of bowling, Budweiser and bargain basement fashion. The set design -- a cozy, kitschy living room -- lets us eavesdrop on private family moments while also maintaining a respectful distance.
Directed with detached serenity by the playwright and Patty Ramsey, the story accumulates an unexpected power. Jim's worsening trauma is embodied by a ghostly drill sergeant (Luke Massy) who has taken up residence in his bedroom. His spectral presence suggests a kind of haunting -- the war is no longer just a faraway abstraction but a domestic issue as well.
The play gets bogged down in a predictable subplot involving Jim's cowardly brother (James Paul Xavier). And some of the soundtrack choices are too obvious (for example, John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" with its "Ain't that America" chorus). But the play's anti-dramatic aesthetic successfully avoids most cliches, achieving a documentary-like objectivity and an almost spiritual level of intimacy.
'March On, Dream Normal'
Where: Paul E. Richards Theater, 2902 Rowena Ave., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays
Ends: June 22
Contact: (800) 838-3006
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes