Cassie Beck, Sami Gayle, Darren Goldstein, JR Horne, Jennifer Mudge, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Maximilian Osinski
There have been plenty of plays about the Iraq War on New York stages in the past several years but few that deal as directly with the viewpoints of military families as Oorah!, up-and-coming playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s most high-profile effort to date, which runs at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Stage 2 till until late September.
Set in Fayetteville, North Carolina in the dog days of the Iraq War, Oorah! opens as Sara (Jennifer Mudge) and her quirky sister Abby (Cassie Beck) simultaneously anticipate Sara’s daughter Lacey’s coming-out party and Sara’s husband Ron’s return.
As is typical in war-related plays, a soldier’s homecoming is never as joyous or uncomplicated as it seems. Things aren’t quite the same now that Ron is a veteran, insecure in a world that doesn’t require his services, in which a job at Home Depot seems like the best, most comfortable option.
When Abby, a flight attendant, brings Chip, a mysterious passenger in his Marine blues, over for dinner with Sara and Ron, Ron’s concepts of virility and militarism are questioned. Ron’s daughter Lacey is a wannabe army gal, trading her princess-style gown for boots and a rifle, and Pop Pop, a veteran of several wars left to don a party hat and mumble to himself, give the play a dark, disturbing quality that’s sorely lacking in some of the play’s lighter, less well-constructed scenes.
As the play progresses, its comic beginnings darken and the play becomes more complex and more fascinating. As Abby strays from her fiance Chris in favor of Chip, she finds herself wondering if security or bravery is most important. It’s Pop Pop, ultimately, who has sacrificed the most, but he’s the one who is most ignored by his family, leaving us to wonder the worth of military service. As well, we’re left to wonder about a soldier’s intent. Does he fight for himself? For glory? For his country?
Despite a strong cast, led by Jennifer Mudge as exhausted homemaker Sara, Darren Goldstein as the rugged patriarch, and Maximilian Oskinski as the square-jawed Marine, the Atlantic’s production fails to quite live up to its ambitions. It’s a play that’s at once intimate and expansive, attempting to deal with a few too many issues in too short a span, one where the author’s efforts are appreciated rather than savored. JR Horne as Pop Pop ultimately makes the deepest impression with his vacant stare, slack jaw, and elastic-affixed conical party hat, but even his character, perhaps the most quietly underwritten of the bunch, is somehow too mysterious.
Bekah Brunstetter makes an impressively smart debut with Oorah! for sure (no one could argue that she doesn’t have dramatic chops), but her work will require refinement before it possesses the sharpness her subject matter deserves. As Ron and Chip face off in the play’s final scenes, it’s clear that Brunstetter has a clear dramatic aim in mind and a way with colloquial Souther dialogue, but the means to the playwright’s ultimate end are somewhat less concrete – mysterious, but perhaps too much so.