Donnie Keshawarz, Jeffrey DeMunn, Kevin O'Donnell
and Jennifer Mudge in Geometry of Fire
(© Sandra Coudert)
Donnie Keshawarz, Jeffrey DeMunn, Kevin O'Donnell
and Jennifer Mudge in Geometry of Fire
(© Sandra Coudert)
There should be no metatheatrical bonus for a play succumbing to the same elements its characters are up against, which is one way to describe Stephen Belber's surprisingly unfocused Geometry of Fire, now premiering at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. The title derives from the battlefield alignment a shooter faces, which is exactly what's lacking in the current Iraq campaign, where soldiers frequently find themselves up against it on all sides.

The story is about two men weighed down by the effects of war. Mel (Kevin O'Donnell), a Marine sniper, can't shake what he did in Iraq; while Tariq (Donnie Keshawarz), a Saudi-American ne'er-do-well, perceives himself as poisoned by the industrial-military complex as it has trickled down through his father and (quite literally) the soil. The barmaid pulled between them (Jennifer Mudge) and Mel's well-meaning father (Jeffrey DeMunn) round out the cast of characters -- and even if they're not suffering from post-traumatic stress, they might as well be.

That's because whether trafficking in realism, dreamlike remembrance, or hypertheatrical fantasy, everything here is cloaked in a sodden dreariness. Only an imagined conversation between the marine and the youth he killed shoots through the torpor. The tedious tone is partially the fault of director Lucie Tiberghien (although, being Belber's wife, she may have simply been following his dramatic intentions).

Still, one must credit Belber for moving out of his stylistic comfort zone. He generally writes fast, funny dialogue that pulls you through taut plotting, as in the recently produced Fault Lines. Here, though, as if out of respect for the seriousness of the issues engaged, he's taken a tack both more ruminative and experimental. There's little in the way of twists and turns; something happens and then the event and its underpinnings are endlessly examined. It actually feels a bit Chekhovian, but without the passion that can give even faded ideas a seductive glow.

Sadly, Keshawarz and O'Donnell don't seem quite on target -- with the latter failing to land any of the role's humor; but it's hard to see how better performances would affect the bottom line. Conversely, Mudge and DeMunn are characteristically stellar. In the end, it doesn't matter -- since even they can't make Geometry add up to a rewarding theatrical experience.