Sunday, June 3, 2012

9 CIRCLES • R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics has settled nicely into its new home at the Black Cat Theatre in Maplewood with a searing production of Bill Cain's 9 Circles.  The title is a reference to Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem, "Divine Comedy".  It chronicles Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, and begins with "Inferno", where Hell is depicted as nine descending circles of suffering located within the earth.  In Cain's play, scenes are introduced as "circle one, circle two", and so on as the audience follows Private Reeves’ descent into his own psychological hell of the Iraqi war.  This play also seems to point an accusatory finger at the war, posing questions about whether or not it, or previous unwelcome wars for that matter, were worth it, and considers the moral complications of war, and the very thin line between military action, and plain old violence.

Reeves is an army "grunt" who has just been informed that he's been honorably discharged from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He signed up when he was 19 years old under a “moral waiver” that allowed him in, despite his past arrests, lack of an employment history, and personality disorder.  When his sergeant informs him that he is being discharged for his horrifying crimes, Reeves asserts that “we are here to kill people”, and cannot understand why his actions warrant being booted out of the army -- the one place Reeves has felt at home.

Michael Scott Rash (Reeves) and B. Weller (Pastor).
Photo credit: Autumn Rinaldi
Reeves’ actions closely mirror those of real-life Pvt. Steven Green, who along with four other soldiers, left their checkpoint duty at "The Triangle of Death", and entered the nearby home of an Iraqi family.  They raped a 14 year-old girl, shot her, set her body on fire, and shot and killed her parents and a younger sister.  Heinous.  Pvt. Green ended up getting life in prison, but it doesn't go that way for our Pvt. Reeves.  Later, while Reeves is in jail, he gets a visit from an army officer who informs him that trial in a civil court (by this time Reeves has been discharged), as opposed to a military court, puts him in a prime position to be the scapegoat for an unpopular war.  His actions have done the worst thing possible:  they have created sympathy for the Iraqis.  The last thing you want is for American citizens to start sympathizing with "the bad guys", right?  The descending levels of this intense play bring us closer to an understanding of Reeves and the torment he and countless other war vets have had to endure, through duo scenes with his military officers, a pastor, an army psychiatrist, and attorneys.  In the end, an end that leaves you with a surprising sympathy for Reeves, and a dirty feeling about wars in general, Reeves finds himself tormented in his death -- just like his 14 year old victim.

Michael Scott Rash (Reeves) and John Wolbers (Attorney)
Photo credit: Autumn Rinaldi
The scenic design (GP Hunsaker) is sparse, but it's the words and performances in the play that pack the strongest punches, and Hunsaker's direction is captivatingly paced.  Michael Scott Rash, a newcomer to St. Louis, is Private Reeves, in a completely present performance that is raw, moving and impressive.  Although the rest of the cast is described as simply Man #1, Man #2 and Woman, B. Weller, John Wolbers and Michelle Hand all greatly contribute in their varying roles.  B. Weller shines in his portrayal of a born-again Christian Pastor who visits Reeves in jail.  Michelle Hand as a military psychiatrist is absorbing in a scene that sheds a great deal of light on the otherwise dark recesses of this play.  John Wolbers also fully delivers his performances as a military officer and an attorney.

Michael Scott Rash (Reeves)
and Michelle Hand (Army Psychiatrist).
Photo credit: Autumn Rinaldi
I'm still thinking about the grim realities that 9 Circles lays at your feet, and I'll bet you'll walk away with plenty of food for thought, too.  Check it out.


Written by Bill Cain
Directed by GP Hunsaker
Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton Blvd.
through June 10 | tickets: $15 - $18
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Michael Scott Rash (Reeves), B. Weller (Man #1), John Wolbers (Man #2) and Michelle Hand (Woman).

Michael Scott Rash (Reeves)
Photo credit: Autumn Rinaldi
Costume design by Cat Baelish; lighting design by David Hahn; sound design by Mark Kelley; scenic design by GP Hunsaker; stage manager, Liz Henning.

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