In Another American: Asking & Telling, running through January 30 at the Theatre at St. Clements, writer/performer Marc Wolf gives voice to an array of American military personnel and their families. Based on interviews conducted over a three year period, Wolf presents male, female, white, black, Latin, young and old characters -- all of whom have served in the military, all of whom are gay. But rather than being a show about a political issue, Another American...explores the experiences of ordinary people and brings dignity and significance to their lives.
Above and beyond the usual solo show, Wolf fully transforms himself into these characters with great expertise using dialects and speech patterns. Equally adroit with his body, Wolf chooses subtle physical adjustments that allow him to move seamlessly from male to female, young to old, as he unravels these diverse characters' stories. This attention to detail creates lifelike portrayals that provoke laughter and pathos from the audience, whether a flamboyant "Mary Alice" or a high-ranking lesbian officer. But, as the play frequently emphasizes, any or all assumptions can be a dangerous thing.
Truly a case of less is more, director Joe Mantello makes a powerful statement with a sparse set by Robert Brill containing nothing more than a table, chair and American flag. This places an intense focus on the characters, reminiscent of an interrogation, as they each reveal their private and painful memories. Mantello also succeeds in forming a cohesive structure to the evening, which draws the audience into the "conversation". One could hear the proverbial pin drop, for example, while a young male soldier described being locked in a jail cell and, in his words, "assaulted". This incident can be seen as a metaphor for the inefficacy of a policy that validates secrecy and perpetuates hatred, ignorance and discrimination. The word rape is never spoken, yet everyone knows that's exactly what happened.
The most poignant moment in the show is when a middle-aged mother - played beautifully by Wolf - tells the story of her son, who was beaten to death for being gay. It's during this speech that the message of Another American... truly crystallizes, making it clear to the audience that these horrific crimes are not just a blurb on the evening news but events that can and do happen to real people and have far-reaching, permanent consequences for those affected and for society.
Brian MacDevitt's brilliant lighting design creates environments that range from a Capitol Hill-like setting to a New Jersey diner to a silhouette that suggests a clandestine meeting. His work greatly enhances Wolf's performance. David Van Tieghem's sound design, consisting of well-chosen music and the use of such common background noises as a train whistle, also create a sense of intimacy and familiarity that further amplify the fact that these characters are hardly strangers: They are our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors and our friends.