Films and plays about returning Iraq War vets tend to dwell, understandably, on the soldiers’ enormous emotional and physical burdens. Yet playwright Julie Marie Myatt sagely realizes civilians can often lug around their own hurt lockers as well. In her “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,” a maimed ex-Marine and other damaged souls gather at a California desert outpost. It’s a provocative situation with dramatic promise only partially realized in its Chance Theater premiere.
By sheer coincidence, Jenny (Brenda Banda) ends up in Slab City, Calif, a real site seen in the book and film “Into the Wild.” The craggy remains of an abandoned Marine base hosts vacationing RV owners each winter and a core of squatters year round. Now it’s Jenny’s halfway house until she can face her family and her demons.
Nothing much happens. But Myatt and Nguyen cast an undeniable spell through a series of odd confrontations among a cross-section of the walking wounded: a sex and substance addict who remains stubbornly romantic (Jennifer Ruckman), a wide-eyed amateur shrink (Karen Webster), a fiercely brooding outcast (Brandon Sean Pearson) and a crippled preacher Buddy (Casey Long) whose Internet ordination cost $9.95. (It came with a free credit check.)
The play is most interesting when the interactions are most indirect. From time to time Myatt abandons her Pinteresque opacity to spill the expositional beans – revealing, for instance, the specific source of Jenny’s anguish – and the mystery instantly slips away. When we’re invited to fill in the gaps ourselves, Nguyen’s cast never loses its grip on our attention, with Pearson especially effective at conveying the unspoken.
Helmer and scribe seriously overestimate the interest value of Buddy’s rambling sermons. With all three delivered by Long at length with the same cadence, rhythm and lack of urgency, the speeches keep bringing the evening to a screeching halt.
“Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter” could benefit from expansion. Bringing in six to 10 more examples of flotsam and jetsam (whom the script refers to anyway) would allow for more variety and activity; certainly more humor.
KC Wilkerson’s lights and Shaun Motley’s sets, at minimal evident expense, create the right superheated environment. But it’s difficult for a mere quintet to suggest a covey of human lizards skittering across the concrete.