Corrections or additions?
This review by Nicole Plett was prepared for the January 24,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Another American’
Take the term "gay pride" and place it beside
"military pride" and the result is an explosive concoction:
men and women trained to conform to a military culture which, once
it is turned against them, resembles nothing so much as a rodent
consuming its own offspring.
The founding fathers recognized early that democracy can never work
without an educated electorate. And the subject of homosexuals serving
in the armed forces has been a topic of national debate at least since
Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign of 1992. Yet what did we
— the so-called "debaters" — really know?
Marc Wolf’s one-man play, "Another American: Asking and
is an informative and frightening tale for those of us who would form
opinions based on fragmentary facts that seem to characterize our
media-driven Information Age. This carefully constructed series of
first-person narratives, collected from American service men and women
of various ages and sexual orientations, tells us more about the
of current government policies than we probably want to know. Wolf’s
McCarter Theater Second Stage performances continue through Sunday,
In the heat of the ideological wars of the 1990s, the Clinton
"Don’t ask, Don’t tell" policy was introduced to replace the
kind of "gentlemen’s agreement" about sexual practices that
has generally guided military forces throughout the world and
history. That a single-sex force is going to attract homosexuals is
a given; so is the fact that homosexuals have proved themselves
dedicated and courageous members of the military.
Playwright-actor Wolf, simply clad in black T-shirt and chinos, is
so adept at adopting the personae of his interviewees, be they gay
or straight, young or old, male or female, that he is the only
character we never meet. And that’s the beauty of his work. His 18
informants, on the other hand, several of whom and re-introduced at
key moments over the course of the play’s two-acts, become, as the
show progresses, familiar acquaintances.
We do "meet" Wolf once, in a short (presumably true-life)
audio tape segment that opens the play. We hear Wolf’s rather halting
and self-conscious voice beginning an interview which is quickly
dominated by the subject’s aggressive questions: "Do you work for
the government? Are you a police officer? Military? FBI or CIA?,"
a woman’s voice asks. No, Wolf replies. "All right, you’re fine
As the play develops, Wolf’s little recorder becomes a character in
its own right. One informant after another directs his or her
anguished remarks to the palm-sized black box as if it bore
responsibility to carry their message to the nation.
But Wolf as player is anything but halting and self-conscious. As
directed by Joe Mantello, Wolf’s performance is powerful and seamless;
with a well-wrought structure to the series of stories that build
over two acts. Choreographic nuances identify his characters and make
us believe we’re in their presence.
Although parallels can be drawn to the work of Anna Deavere Smith,
I was struck by Wolf’s success in obtaining interviews with so many
key players in this ongoing national nightmare. These include Miriam
Ben Shalom, a former U.S. Army drill sergeant and lesbian who was
the first woman to fight her discharge in the courts. Although she
eventually won her right to reinstatement, she was permanently ousted
in 1990. Her civil rights are now protected, we assume, in her job as
a public school teacher.
Probably the most harrowing story is told by the mother
of Allen Schindler, murdered by his own shipmates. As portrayed by
Wolf, this working-class mother simply aches for her beloved son.
So brutal was his murder that when the Navy returned his battered
body, the family had to identify it through his tattoos, including
an emblem of the USS Midway, "the ship he loved."
Also contributing to the mix of voices is Professor Charles Moskos,
the man who first proposed the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy.
Still holding to his concept with unwavering pride, he calls it his
"divine inspiration." The irony here is that the audience
has already seen, all too clearly, a painful trail of victims —
dead, emotionally disturbed, or disgraced.
Among the play’s most vividly drawn characters are an older lesbian
couple, Hannah and Anna Mae, whose military service began in the
1960s. Wolf brilliantly captures the presence of both women, seated
side by side, sharing the interview. If there’s any element of comic
relief to be found here, it’s in this weatherbeaten couple who have
been together since before it occurred to either one that their sexual
preference could be described or condemned by a single word: lesbian.
Another woman, a veteran lawyer, provides a welcome note of comic
relief when she waxes nostalgic about the days when the armed forces
were "virtually a lesbian social club." Until the ’70s, she
explains, you couldn’t be married or pregnant and stay in the military
— either one would get you thrown out. So is it any wonder that
the military found itself asking, "Where did all these dykes come
The play includes the voices of at least two men and women who oppose
gays serving in the military, but this vocal element of the
"national debate" could have been stronger. One man testifies
that he joined the military because he understood homosexuals were not
allowed to serve; another commander tells how homosexual activities
were disruptive to the cohesion of his fighting unit.
Wolf, who has no military experience of his own and considers himself
gay, builds on this down-to-earth testimony to reveal the confusion
of speech and conduct that is at the root of the policy’s
contradictions. One man’s story reveals a fatal confusion between
homosexuals and pedophiles. And we meet real citizens who have been
condemned to dishonorable discharges, courts martial, and suicides by
what appear to be politically-driven policies.
"Another American" closes on a brave yet poignant note with
a collage of photo portraits of the veterans and active duty men and
women who have stated their case through the person of Marc Wolf.
We recognize them as patriots.
— Nicole Plett
91 University Place, 609-258-2787. $20. A discussion follows the
performance on Wednesday, January 24, at 8 p.m. Performances
continue through Sunday, January 28.
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