Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Whitefire Serves Up Counter Men by Chuck Faerber


Never having been in the military, I can only imagine what it must be like to serve in a branch of our armed forces. The courageous men and women who fight to uphold our freedom do so with a passion and dedication that is remarkable, given the discomfort and trauma they undergo in foreign lands. And when their tour is over, for many, their own personal war often continues at home.

The men and women who inhabit Mo-Pars Restaurant in Counter Men by Chuck Faerber are all in some way connected by war, and each holds fast to a different viewpoint of what it means to be a patriot. Though the play contains a multitude of stories (a few too many to really be effective in the span of one play), and negligible music that feels out of place here, it also has some engaging character studies and moving scenes that make it worth seeing at the Whitefire Theatre.

Most interesting is the trio of Eddie, Carl, and Tim, who each bring something special to their respective roles. Eddie (Alan Woolf), a quiet man of few words, is a Korean War veteran who lives in his van, Carl (Bart Braverman) is a frustrated writer and former Vietnam vet battling alcohol and cancer, and Tim (Shelly Kurtz) is a comedian who fancies himself the Bob Hope of the club, mediating with humor whenever words become tense.

Each has found the essential honesty of his character and embodies it with such ease that I was fully invested in what was happening to them. After intermission, however, their stories are all but dropped for a second act that focuses on an entirely different and largely less interesting set of characters and issues. The exception is Mackie (Paul Haitkin) and his dilemma; a tragedy that pulls at the heartstrings though it still feels like we’ve jumped ship to another play. Mackie is the hothead; an unemployed actor who has not yet served but defends the righteousness of war with a brash bravado that leads to an eventual clash of wills.

The diner family also includes Joyelle (Marion Ramsey, best known as Officer La Verne in the Police Academy films), the waitress and resident den mother whose son is currently serving in Iraq, and a number of other assorted characters that weave themselves in and out of the busy action. Director Richard Kuhlman keeps them all revolving around each other like a dance as they come and go through the “Siberia” of the diner doors.

One other performance that gets short shrift is that of Amro Salama, a mysterious hooded man named Haidar about whom we learn very little but who delivers an end of the first act monologue that is terrific. It is in moments like these that Faerber's writing really scores. If he would let us see Haidar's story unfold onstage rather than off, and give the elder statesmen the due their stories deserve, Counter Men could become a more fully satisfying foray into the effects of war on real people. The actors are game, the subject speaks to our time, and he is, after all, a military man who knows this world first-hand.

Counter Men runs through August 27 at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks 91423.
Click Here for tickets or call 323-960-5521.

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Comedy Faceposted by Ellen Dostal, MusicalsInLA @
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