Acclaimed, pseudonymous legit scripter Jane Martin (“Talking With”) has charged into the controversy regarding U.S. military involvement in Iraq with a fierce resolve to expose all facets of this struggle without taking sides. “Flags” is an expertly crafted work that performs a keen dissection and analysis of the age-old edict that, in time of war, “It is sweet and noble to die for one’s country.” Jenny Sullivan directs an outstanding ensemble, providing a fine balance between a family’s personal adjustment to the tragic loss of their son and society’s mixed reaction to that family’s expression of grief.
Set within the myriad current agendas bombarding the heartland, the play’s principal protag is Eddie Desmopoulis (Chris Mulkey), a Vietnam vet garbage truck driver whose self-esteem rests on the knowledge that his eldest son, Carter, is a tank commander. When his son, whose tour in Iraq was extended far beyond normal rotation, is reported killed, Eddie and wife Em (Karen Landry) are ripped by grief, but find some comfort in the knowledge that their son gave his life in battle to protect the American way of life.
But when Eddie learns his son was killed while assigned to a civilian garbage detail and subsequently was mutilated by a mob of bystanders, his rage explodes beyond the limits of rational thought.
His tangible reaction to what he sees as his son’s senseless death is to fly the U.S. flag upside down on his rooftop. This visible act of defiance soon galvanizes both sides of the war issue, turning Eddie’s rigid resolve into both an applauded antiwar gesture and a traitorous symbol of support for the enemy.
Martin surrounds Eddie, Em, disfavored youngest son Frankie (Ryan Johnston) and friend Benny (Alexander Zale) with a five-member chorus. This fluid ensemble underscores the motivations of the family and personifies the myriad characters that comment on, support or condemn Eddie’s action.
Sullivan instills veracity in every character’s agenda, creating a kaleidoscope of competing thought and action that eventually and inevitably leads to tragedy.
Driving the action is the husband-and-wife team of Mulkey and Landry, who created these roles last year in the original Guthrie Theater staging of “Flags.” They inhabit the characters with an intimacy that makes viable a troubled relationship that nonetheless has survived over a quarter-century.
Mulkey realizes the soul of a reformed alcoholic who can process only so much information before his primal instincts take over. Landry’s Em is the warmth-exuding, life-supporting rock who holds the family together.
Johnston is hauntingly fragile as Frankie, the wayward son who desperately seeks his father’s approval. D’Amato supplies much-needed humor as Benny, the level-headed neighbor and friend who nevertheless utilizes Eddie’s downward spiral to finally convey his decades-long unrequited love for Em.
The chorus quintet of Yvans Jourdon, Kara Revel, Fred Shahadh, Pamela Shaddock and Michael Wise flow in and out of the action with ease, always lending seamless support to scripter Martin’s unflinching depiction of a country divided.