This is a difficult subject. The profound psychological toll that war inflicts on its soldiers.
Beyond the ultimate sacrifice, beyond the terrible physical maiming and beyond so-called civilian collateral damage. But this toll is one that we can surely never be exposed to enough. Our propensity to look the other way when we encounter what we don’t understand is perhaps one of our saddest of instincts.
This play, “The Dogs Pond” faces it head-on. Set in Maine at a pond, or small lake, we spend the weekend with a group of soldiers. Men who know each other because they served together in The Gulf War and Afghanistan and an uncle who served in Vietnam. One of the soldier’s brothers and another uncle, a professor are also around. The soldiers have a connection of course. But how can any of us know war if we haven’t served? The civilians know the men the war made and long for who they were before. One of the soldiers has chosen not to speak since he returned and it is his brother who has organized the trip, trying desperately to find his brother's voice for him.
Over the weekend the men talk and drink and “do nothing,” which is why they came. But of course, there is far more to it than that. They give us small glimpses into their lives since they served. Their longing to feel normal, their stubborn pain, their avoidance of closeness, their guilt. One of the men lost an arm and a leg and battles through his existence still, too angry to die, his prosthetics state of the art, but unfortunately not bionic.
It’s a tough play. But the toughness belies a tender heart. My father was a marine. He was tough as nails but easy to love. That’s how I felt about the play and most of the characters within it. Men go to war for so many reasons, some of them not easily explained. When they come home they are always changed. Hhow can they not be, how could anyone not be? But the world they return to often hasn’t changed at all and they must feel like they've walked through a mirror sometimes. Honoring the struggles and the battles they continue to fight is not only right but necessary.
There is a lot of love in this play, as well as anger and hurt and a brutal kind of acceptance of each other as they are now, not as they were. We all change as we go through life, these men changed at an accelerated rate. They fell through time somehow, separating themselves forever from what they knew and from how their people knew them. But at least they did it together and that is their eternal brotherhood. The performances are absolutely excellent. Real and true and gentle and strong, very, very funny and extraordinarily moving.
“The Dogs Pond” is a lyrical, funny and furiously poetic look at a group of warriors who are just trying to find their peace…brilliant.
Running October 7th through October 28th, Sundays at 7 pm The Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 91423
Bergsey - Fred Mancuso
Stills - Josh Evans
Owen - Craig Hasenbank
Carter - Ryan de Quintal
Uncle Pete - Johnny B. Young
Gary Enfield - Ted Wells