|Steven Barkhimer & Michael Tow in "Warrior Class"|
(photo: Mark S. Howard)
Warrior Class, Lyric Stage Company's current production of a three-character play by Kenneth Lin, would seem to be nothing if not topical and relevant to these politically hyperventilated days. The playwright poses the question of one's right to be given a second chance and if a person being considered for political office can really change from a previous toxic reality.
Republican Party operative Nathan Berkshire (Steven Barkhimer) is in the vetting process for a “hot new” potential candidate for a congressional seat, Julius Lee (Michael Tow) called “the Republican Obama” after a recent barnburning local speech. Lee seems on the surface the near perfect choice, a Christian and former Marine who served in Kuwait and on the Harvard Law Review. Nathan goes to Baltimore to vet Julius' old girlfriend Holly Eames (Jessica Webb), who is at first friendly and polite but suddenly balks at signing papers attesting to the benign nature of her previous relationship with Lee. Eventually, a skeleton pops out of the closet about how their affair ended, with no record at their college of what happened (having been expunged at Nathan's request). She even suggests a quid pro quo for her compliance.
There is a parallel made between Odysseus and Julius, now “just polishing armor” after a presumably illustrious military career. Whereas in the case of Odysseus, who was “seen and can be heard”, Julius feels he is more invisible as an assimilated Asian-American (or perhaps a Chinese-American would be more appropriate in discussing this work). Reference is made to the fact that local elections are more like traditional hiring practices. Aspiring to higher office inherently involves more fact-finding. Alex Wagner in The Atlantic is quoted in the program about “Asian” being a “label that masks the diversity among its peoples...(that) encompasses a vast array of cultures, languages, religions and histories” and posits that their biggest obstacle to poltitical involvement is their invisibility. Also quoted is writer and director Tom Huang with respect to the “danger of racial identifiers” providing us with convenient shortcuts to tell stories that thus turn out be untrue.
There are a number of charged issues addressed. For example, Lin writes somewhat presciently that a “political party is a thing of the past” and “not accountable for “something (he) said yesterday”, but most are sketchy at best. At issue here is whether or not this particular potential candidate is “fit for public office”. Therein lies a problem for a work this brief (less than eighty minutes in length). Despite a very predictable end, we learn scant little about the lead character of Julius in an underwritten role, though Tow and Director Dawn M. Simmons manage to leave a handful of clues. All three actors, in fact, could hardly be better, with Webb given perhaps the hardest role in which to evolve, and Barkhimer a standout both in appearance and performance. It's just that there are only the bare bones of what could have been a more complex, deeper and more involving longer work. The creative team, typically for Lyric Stage, provides stellar support on this small stage, from the extraordinarily flexible Scenic Design by Jenna McFarland Lord to the realistic Costume Design by Chelsea Kerl, effective Lighting Design by Daniel H. Jentzen and eerie Sound Design by Elizabeth Cahill.
At one point Nathan remarks “I was from the warrior class”, while Julius notes that “following foot soldiers leads to the grave”. These were hints at what a more developed play might ask about and perhaps begin to answer, especially given this admirable level of playwriting. In former days in theater, this might have served well as a curtain-raiser. In its present form, a promising author is pretty much only polishing the armor.