Cassie Beck and Jennifer Mudge in OOHRAH!
(© Ari Mintz)
Cassie Beck and Jennifer Mudge in OOHRAH!
(© Ari Mintz)
Everyone in Bekah Brunstetter's OOHRAH!, now premiering at the Atlantic Stage 2, is attempting to be something they aren't. For example, Army wife Sara (Jennifer Mudge) wants to be like Martha Stewart, but finds that creating a perfect home eludes her. Her sister Abby (Cassie Beck) knows she should be a blushing bride-to-be, but somehow can't bring herself to set a date with her eager fiancé Christopher (played with sincere goofiness by Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), who himself has delusions of power in his job as a security guard at the Fayetteville, North Carolina airport. These quirky characters all collide in ways that should, theoretically, amuse and touch, but unfortunately, Brunstetter's unfocused script means that a potentially charming slice of Southern life becomes an often less-than-satisfying theatrical experience.

OOHRAH takes its title from a term of respect that Marines use to salute one another. During the course of the play, Chip (played with a sweet homespun ease by Maximilian Osinski), a member of this branch of the armed services flies into Fayetteville on mysteriously vague, "Special Orders," and meets Abby -- an attendant on his flight -- who immediately fixates on the young man.

Concurrently, Sara has to cope with the unexpected return of her husband Ron (the solidly stalwart Darren Goldstein) from his second deployment in Iraq. On one hand, she's thrilled: Ron's return means that she can finally have a husband who's at home, but she's frustrated by his inability to fit into the mold of the civilian husband she's envisioned. This tension comes to a head as Sara hosts a party for their 14-year-old daughter Lacey (Sami Gayle), a tomboy with dreams of becoming a Marine, and who has developed an obsession of her own for Chip.

There's a decided quirkiness to Brunstetter's characters and the situations in which they find themselves; for example, meals with Sara and Abby's ailing grandfather Pop Pop (played with gruff sensitivity by JR Horne) are particularly choice. But there's little dramatic focus to the play as it wends its way between stories and scenes, and this sense of aimlessness is only exacerbated by director Evan Cabnet's overly speedy and often too broad staging within the awkward and claustrophobic confines of Lee Savage's two-level scenic design. In addition, a lack of consistency in the cast's Southern accents -- from non-existent to caricature -- can make some of the play's more ludicrous moments feel as if they've been taken from a sitcom.

Nevertheless, there are glimmers of poignancy and terrific humor in both the writing and performances, particularly whenever Mudge and Beck share the stage together. The sisters' relationship has a piquant honesty that the actresses explore to moving effect. (Unfortunately, this solid work does not extend to their scenes with the men, during which all of the performers strain to bring the characters' awkward relationships to life.)

Still, with some judicious revisions, OOHRAH! might be something to cheer about.