09 Aug SJ Mercury News: Oakland's TheatreFirst delivers powerful Iraq War-themed play, 'Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter.'
By Pat Craig, Correspondent.
The war is over for Jenny Sutter. She comes home minus most of her right leg and filled with nightmares that leave her screaming and flailing through the night.
But Jenny (Omoze Idehenre) isn’t quite ready to go home to her mom and her kids, and she certainly doesn’t want to return to Barstow, where she grew up. What happens instead makes up the story of “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,” a powerful new play by Julie Marie Myatt getting its Bay Area premiere at Oakland’s TheatreFirst company.
At the bus station, where she’d been annoyed by the attendant, Hugo (Joe Estlack), she meets Lou (Nancy Carlin), another confused wanderer who takes Jenny under her wing and leads her on a journey into a world of pain, madness and dysfunction that suggests the ravages of both war and life can conjure ghosts that haunt a person day and night.
Lou, addicted to drugs, booze, sex and darn near anything that causes pleasure and feeling, takes Jenny to Slab City, a mostly concrete ex-military base near Niland in the Southern California desert, where squatters, misfits and drifters have made their homes.
It is there Lou found her shrink, Cheryl (Karol Strempke), who has counseled her to stop doing all the things that addict her; her boyfriend Buddy (Brett David Williams), a self-taught preacher crippled from the beating he received as a child; and Donald (Jon Tracy), a walking stick of dynamite who will explode at almost anything.
In this strange community, Jenny is still confused, but seems to realize that nobody has a corner on pain, rage or fear. The residents, in their own, sometimes crazy ways, seem to recognize Jenny as a kindred spirit.
But the compelling part of this play is that it spins its tale dry-eyed and unflinching and never falls into the sort of maudlin abyss these things so often do. Even at the end, you are not convinced everyone, or anyone, will live happily ever after. It is a genuine slice-of-life, engaging from the start.
The story plays on a very simple set by Martin Flynn that includes a couple of tarps, a few walls, a raised platform and minimal props, but all that disappears in the story as the actors, all beautifully convincing in the roles they play, tread a thin line between the real and surreal.