Nicholas Kazan may have created a new character in “A Good Soldier”: the wimpy fanatic. Heroine Annie (Kaitlin Doubleday) is defined by boyfriend Hammond (Michael Anderson Brown) as “magnificent” and “a good soldier,” but judging from Kazan’s world-premiere play, Hammond is dead wrong on both counts. The author (“Reversal of Fortune”) has set his loose reworking of “Antigone” in modern Baghdad and dreamed up intriguing situations, only to mar his material with a protagonist so weak, inconsistent, didactic and at times plain dumb that even tautly written scenes tend to be ludicrous.
The first scene with Annie and her friend Josey (Ali Hillis) feels more like a chat session between two juniors in a college dorm than one taking place in an Iraq barrack. Josey thinks Annie has been sneaking out at night to meet a lover, until she discovers her friend’s secret trips are to give food and antibiotics to an Iraq family.
Promising tension is established when Annie talks with b.f. Hammond, asking, “What is our duty to our country? … Is it greater or less than our duty to ourselves?” However, play then dissipates suspense via undramatic, wandering discourses on moral objections, Nuremberg and whether to obey orders.
For all the verbosity, Kazan’s work still has inventive dialogue that a powerful actress could have illuminated, but Doubleday is directed to approach the character without toughness, irony or wit. It’s impossible to fathom how or why Annie wound up in the military, and this impression is exacerbated when she confronts Gen. Creedon (Clancy Brown of “Carnivale”). The general, Hammond’s father and Annie’s concerned, future father-in-law, knows of her illegal nocturnal activities, tries to determine if she’s a spy and asks her to stop.
Brown is a magnetic actor, capable enough to bring off the line “Call me dad,” and react plausibly to such lines from Annie as “You can’t save a person from herself, sir” or “Do you think God is real?”
Annie isn’t a clever, manipulative adversary; no genuine effort is expended to outwit the general. She simply states her point of view, in a curiously passionless fashion, never indicating that she has a grasp of larger issues or indicating with any depth that she cares about the pain experienced by her fellow soldiers.
Kazan serves up a fantasy portrait of the military world, in which a general would spar at length with an underling and try to make her see reason after she has seriously breached military rules. There’s no contest in the confrontations, since Brown’s part is written and directed with more conviction, and he so overwhelms Doubleday that it’s easy to automatically reject her antiwar arguments even when they have merit.
This is a military world in which Annie’s friend Josey won’t salute a general and salutes Annie instead, an act no trained soldier would dream of committing. More absurd is the refusal of two companies to execute a mission Creedon has devised because they agree with Annie’s position that “the people who are shooting at us, the people we’re about to attack … those people are not the enemy.”
The general’s tepid reaction to knowledge that Annie has incriminating photos of Americans torturing an Iraqi defies belief. Civilized discussion would be over with a bang once she threatened to reveal her pics to the world.
Beyond these contrivances is the story’s most significant mistake. After Creedon attempts to plunge Annie into perilous circumstances, she responds with frightened wistfulness, “I’m going to die now,” projecting fear rather than courageous, implacable martyrdom.
As Hammond, the boyfriend converted from passiveness to zealotry, Michael Anderson Brown has an awkward honesty, and Hillis contributes a few light moments as Annie’s friend. Chris Gardner has authentic military bearing as a soldier who opposes the general’s decisions.
Accompanying video showing an American flag, parched earth and a man being tortured adds flavor, and Victoria Profitt’s simple set design supplies a sense of environment. These details help, without solving the production’s basic problem, which is voiced by Hammond: “Annie, this isn’t making a lot of sense.”