Arriving in Los Angeles from New York with a dossier that includes an Obie Award and nominations from the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle, Marc Wolf’s examination of gays in the military, “Another American: Asking and Telling,” is a searing indictment of U.S. policy yet not quite affecting theater. Wolf’s journey through the experiences of 18 individuals whose lives have been altered by the U.S. military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has a rewarding second act, but the actor-writer does not immerse himself in any portrayal. At times it is difficult to discern any personality change at all from character to character.
Wolf exudes an appealing presence as he segues from character to character, making good use of Robert Brill’s simple desk and chair setting although some characters are differentiated only through slight variations in speech patterns and accents. This is particularly true in including his recurring quick-change portrayal of a lesbian couple who have become sadly resigned to the military policy that has shadowed them all their adult lives.
He offers a well-balanced view of the varied opinions though it isn’t until act two that he develops a more complete scenario for each characterization. His characters come from all walks of life — a dishonorably discharged Marine, a self-described “Jewish lesbian from the Midwest,” a hick soldier driving through his hometown.
A Navy seaman from the Dominican Republic states his eternal gratitude for the opportunity to serve his new country but admits he would quit if forced to serve alongside gays because he believes homosexuality is “a sin against the God I believe in.” A youth from a tough big-city neighborhood offers his perspective on how kids like him are conditioned to be homophobic because of their upbringing.
In act two, Wolf portrays a former colonel who was arrested and imprisoned in Fort Leavenworth over his “deviant behavior,” proof of which, investigators said, his vocal score to the musical “La Cage Aux Folles.” Then there’s the Northwestern University professor who actually framed the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy during the early days of the Clinton administration. He recalls that Clinton’s pre-election promise to end the discrimination nearly killed his administration before it ever got going. Feeling his actions actually solved the problem, the professor thrusts an arm upward in victory, proclaiming, “Two cheers for hypocrisy.”
Wolf presents without comment the views of a politician who believes that the most important thing in war is the spirit of the men who have to fight and die and that no amount of social enlightenment would change the fact that overt acceptance of gays in the military would destroy the spirit of the soldier as comrades in arms and ultimately “disrupt this country.”
Two devastating portraits close out the perf: A sailor’s mother recalls having to open her son’s coffin to identify her son after he was beaten to death by his shipmates in Japan; and a Green Beret who protested the military’s anti-gay policies in front of the White House. When he visits the Vietnam memorial, he notes, the children who approach him leave with an acknowledgment of his accomplishments as a soldier, not his sexual preference.