09 Aug George Heymont – My Cultural Landscape

Three years ago, when her play received its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Julie Marie Myatt explained that: “I began writing Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter in 2006, with several questions in mind: questions that I still have, that have not been answered as we premiere this play in February of 2008. As a nation at war, how are we treating our returning veterans? Are we ready for the first generation of women veterans wounded and maimed by combat? What is our responsibility, as citizens, to those who are serving in this war; a war that many feel was a mistake from the start, that has been costly, poorly planned, a waste of both our human and financial resources and which has no end in sight? What are we to DO about it, as individuals, as citizens, that goes beyond politics that might give some sort of comfort or aid or understanding to those who have suffered and sacrificed themselves for this war? I feel that this play is a portrait and a song of these questions. It is a story of a few people trying to figure out, in their way, how to make one woman’s return home more human and welcome and loving, so that she can begin to return to herself, and to her children. It is my humble attempt, as a playwright, to give a voice to the warrior where I feel silence has become the accepted means of communication between our nation and our warriors. I fear that silence is strangling us.”

Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter is currently receiving its Bay area premiere from Oakland’s TheatreFIRST in a production directed by Domenique Lozano. It is a strange play which, despite occasional moments of humor, shows what happens when a wounded warrior who is confused, exhausted, and showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, gets stuck in a desert hellhole in Southern California while trying to return home to her family in Barstow.

Much to her bewilderment, Jenny Sutter (Omoze Idehenre) finds herself stuck in Slab City, a bleak home to squatters and owners of recreational vehicles near what remains of Camp Dunlap in a portion of the Colorado Desert. The locals she meets are a pretty sorry lot.

• Hugo (Joe Westlack) is the surly sentry at the local bus station who wants more information out of Jenny Sutter than she has any intention of sharing.
• Donald (Jon Tracy) is the local spoilsport, a clueless cynic who thinks that the earrings he gives Jenny Sutter after scaring the living daylights out of her entitles him to a kiss.
• Lou (Nancy Carlin) is a well-meaning woman who, upon learning that Jenny Sutter has just returned home from the Iraq War decides to throw a welcome home party for the dazed and confused veteran.
• Buddy (Brett David Williams) is Lou’s boyfriend, a would-be preacher who got his certification on the Internet for $10 and now holds random sermons whenever he can find a captive audience.
• Cheryl Karol Strempke) is a friend of Lou’s with a car and a conscience.

While Myatt’s drama tries to shed some light on Jenny’s condition, for large segments of the evening the actor playing Jenny must pretend to be sleeping while onstage (this is a pretty thankless role). It doesn’t take long for the audience to realize that Jenny Sutter isn’t the only character in this play who belongs to the walking wounded. With the exception of Cheryl, none of these characters stands much chance of surviving modern civilization. Even when the sweetest parts of their souls emerge, they seem ridiculously doomed.

One might think that Jenny and Lou would be the most interesting roles in Myatt’s play, but it is the performances of Jon Tracy (Donald) and Brett David Williams (Buddy) as two hapless and hopeless men that leave the deepest impressions.

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