Saturday, December 6, 2014

'One Night,' Charles Fuller's Play Holds Truisms About PTSD That Relate to Fergurson and NYC

Corporal Horace Lloyd (Grantham Coleman) and Sargent Alicia G. (Rutina Wesley) in Charles Fuller’s One Night at the Cherry Lane Theatre until December 15th, 2013. Photo courtesy of Broadway

I am revisiting the issue of PTSD as revealed in an important play which dealt with it on a powerful level in Charles Fuller's One Night. I am sorry to say that this magnificent production was forced to close early because of the lack of support for it. When I went to Paris earlier this year, a retired French official who worked as a liason for the arts in Louisiana discussed an interesting point about French playwrights and audiences. He said that they enjoyed plays with a message, plays that had powerful themes, plays that established advocacy. The French preferred not to watch frivolous entertainment and especially did not want to pay excessive prices for it. If Fuller's play had been produced in France, most probably it would have had a longer run. It never found its fans in New York and it should have because the protests now are indirectly related to returning vets, the culture of war, PTSD, racism and stresses which cause brutality instead of peace.

It is well known that are veterans are returning home, in record numbers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Though they may be physically whole and appear well on the outside, they may be emotionally and mentally ravaged by the killing zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. What happens even after they’ve received treatment and drug interventions? Will they ever be able to deal or heal? And do any of these Vets ever go onto our police forces in the nation?

The stresses of PTSD for returning Vets highlighted the basic theme of One Night, Charles Fuller’s searing and solidly crafted drama about the impact of the emotional wounds of war which continually upend our veterans’ abilities to live peaceful, regular lives outside war zones. Fuller’s powerful character portrayals of vets, Corporal Horace Lloyd (in a sterling performance by Grantham Coleman), and Sargent Alicia G. (a powerful, engaging and emotionally driven Rutina Wesley) riveted the audience, building complexity throughout the play to the stark conclusion. Fuller’s brilliant writing with each stroke and in each scene strengthened the basic premise and pounded out a theme of even greater relevance: women’s service in the military and their treatment by their fellow soldiers.

 Fuller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of A Soldier’s Play, created immediate tension at the outset. Vets Horace and Alicia burst through the door of a seedy motel room without clothing or any belongings, save Horace’s manila envelop holding a few documents. We learn they’ve barely escaped from a fire in a shelter where they had been living. They were given this room to spend the night until they receive better accommodations. The motel keeper is a predatory type (a beautifully realized performance by Cortez Nance Jr.) whom, we note, is salivating at the presence of disheveled, discomposed Alicia.

We understand that they have landed in one of “those” motels and we understand that Horace is going to have to protect Alicia in this untenable situation from the leering Meny and any others. Alicia is vulnerable and emotionally debilitated; PTSD has backed her into a corner and she can barely make it to the next minute without cringing at the hallucinations of the Sandbox (jargon for the Iraq desert) with visits from an intrusive medic and others. Though Horace also suffers PTSD and has the shakes, he appears to be stronger and is in the lead. He controls their relationship. She is completely dependent upon him for her care, her understanding of their current reality, the situation they find themselves in, and how they are going to get through this one night in this menacing motel.

As they try to settle in and get some rest, the conflicts abound; we come to understand the depth of the trauma they’ve suffered and will continue to suffer, manifested by the content of the flashbacks, hallucinations and their anxiety. Aggression and the potential for violence flares up from their unconscious. The hellish incidents are triggered by seemingly mundane and benign factors. They try to deal; they are on meds. However, their, relationship, the nature of which remains opaque, does little to diffuse the tremulous, strained emotional impact they have on each other.

Through interruptions from Meny (who challenges their identity and purpose at the motel), phone calls from a friend of Horace’s, periodic hallucinations each suffers through, a visit from a bellicose sheriff, and incisive questions from the fire marshal, Horace and Alicia become more unhinged. Fuller’s suspenseful, illuminating writing has constructed a psychological relationship between the two vets which we know is headed toward a violent confrontation.
Cortez Nance Jr. (Meny), Sargent Alicia G. (Rutina Wesley), Corporal Horace Lloyd (Grantham Coleman), (left to right) in Charles Fuller’s One Night at the Cherry Lane Theatre until December 15th. Photo by Bruce Glikas
 When both are forced to confront what happened to Alicia one night back at the forward operating Base Taylor, it is a revelation that one of them cannot endure. It is a revelation that frees the other. For the audience comes an illumination that shines through the darkness of the military’s complacent corruptions which victimize both men and women vets alike. This is an invisible, nascent corruption born of war, nurtured by wartime alienation and encouraged by a disaffected, closed bureaucracy. It is a corruption which breeds cultural disaffection for our vets. It fosters the notion to our vets that they are being thrown on the slag heap of a refuse pile, after their vitality and substance has been mined through and used up by the military.

The production shouted out these themes and many more through Clinton Turner Davis’ tight, logical direction. The clarity was welcome and we were completely present, on edge, watching to see Grantham Coleman and Rutina Wesley deliver the power of Horace’s and Alicia next unscrambling of emotions. What was a reckoning for the ensemble cast were the very real and believable performances, especially for the leads. Their underlying sense of danger, fear, and torment pitted against their hurt and helplessness brought the audience to a place of empathy. On this night the audience never lost sight of suffering humanity, especially at the conclusion.

This was a powerful production thanks to Davis’ direction and the performances of Grantham Coleman, Rutina Wesley, Cortez Nance Jr. with support by Matthew Montelongo (Army Major, State Trooper, Troop 1, Fire Marshall) and K.K. Moggie (Medic, Lieutenant, Troop 2 Captain/Doctor, Interviewer). It was an important production for its vital performances, its potent messages and its cultural currency.

One Night was presented by The Cherry Lane Theatre and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at the Cherry Lane Theatre under the direction of Angelina Fiordellisi. It was forced to close early.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics and can be read HERE. 


As an addendum, individuals who are in war, like individuals in law enforcement undergo tremendous stresses that are little known and that often are not adequately addressed. In Fergurson and in NYC (the Eric Garner chokehold incident), and in many other incidents across this nation (see Stolen Lives Project which enumerates the number of innocents killed at the hands of police nationally since 1990), police have reacted with excessive force. The horror is not only to the families and innocent victims who have been killed. The horror is how the police individually could have effected such bad judgment to kill in the first place. One of the reasons is most likely fear and stress, PTSD of the type and nature that Vets return home with.

Police are supposed to be "strong," "manly" types. At least that is an image that is conveyed to keep a culture "at bay" and afraid. The irony is that no one addresses the tremendous stresses that law enforcement is under. It reminds one of how Vets returning from WWII were supposed to "man up" and not talk about what they saw. How did many "man up?" They abused their wives, their children. They drank and they turned inward and became isolated. Only now we realize they suffered from PTSD. Patrick Stewart, thankfully came out about this in his own life and has worked tirelessly to help those Vets with PTSD and those families and particularly women who have to be sheltered away from an abusive husband or partner.

Police forces across the nation are incredibly stressed. I would maintain many suffer from PTSD. And it is this that has prompted them to kill many innocents in addition to wrong thinking, racist notions, the "US" vs. "THEM" MO, and their forgetting their true mission, that they are PEACE OFFICERS, whose focus should be to "KEEP AND MAINTAIN THE PEACE."  Instead, psychological and emotional pressures and group think in a police culture of "being manly and not caving to womanish emotion," has made once human individuals into brutes who shoot first then cover up their liabilities afterward.

This must stop. The innocents killed are martyred and become saints mourned by families. The police who "get away with killing" are in the horror of an emotional abyss of brutality for the rest of their lives, WHETHER THEY ACKNOWLEDGE IT OR NOT. The PTSD which is supposed to remain hidden so they are not "sissies," goes left untreated and the possibility is that they may kill again.

Governments must acknowledge this great, silent destroyer that is a product of the stresses of being law enforcement. They must do this by instituting programs that deal with proper training, and psychological protocols to deal with on the job psychic damage. The protocols should be ones that heal officers and return them to human feeling and empathy. The "US" vs. "THEM" attitudes must be debunked for what they are, fear tactics to pump up the adrenalin which ultimately are damaging. We are all human. Police officers are sensitive, feeling people (regardless of the fear of appearing like sissies...they must acknowledge their emotions), above all peace officers. If these issues are not addressed, more of the same will occur. And the individuals in law enforcement above all will be internally impaired for their lives on this earth and perhaps forever.


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