Reviewed by Marc Wheeler
With #BlackLivesMatter trending alongside a US Supreme Court #LoveWins ruling, the time is ripe for explorations of injustice and dignity in America. Former Navy pilot-turned-playwright Charles N. Faerber’s, Zulu Time, at the Hudson Backstage Theatre, directed by Richard Kuhlman, tackles issues of race and otherness through the lens of a naval unit in the 1960s, when the Watts Riots (now nearing its 50th anniversary) and the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. sent smoke signals of distress and rocked the nation. Unfortunately, too little of substance is offered on these timely topics as this jargon-heavy script creates a barrier to non-military audiences (slightly lessened by a Navy-themed glossary in the program) and story lines on race and sexuality are given scattered, unsatisfying surface dives when a richer examination is needed.
Aboard an American Essex Class aircraft carrier three weeks before heading out to Vietnam, a white Navy pilot Page Boy (David Ghilardi) remarks to fellow white flier Lone Star (Trevor Larson) that he’d like to bomb the welfare-abusing “animals” in Watts, a remark overheard by Ronnie (Christopher T. Wood), a black crewman who reacts none-too-enthusiastically to these threats of racial violence, the safety of his family in jeopardy. An apology is requested and refused, and we soon find the slighted Ronnie being threatened with a discharge by the ship’s bigoted Potter (John Marzilli) as the racially sensitive Asian Yamato (Scott Keiji Takeda) pleas for his understanding.
It is from this episode Zulu Time explores the ship’s colorful characters — each bringing their own histories of education, privilege, plights and secrets — from Southern California to Vietnam, a journey a bit too daunting to adequately explore the arcs of this lively bunch. While performances from the ensemble are mostly solid and authentic, dialogue sometimes borders on caricature, as in the case of Potter, whose let’s-kill-everyone-who-doesn’t-look-like-us diatribes ring far-fetched, despite a fantastic performance by gravel-voiced Marzilli.
A simple set by Gary Lee Reed employs the use of rolling walls to create multiple rooms aboard the carrier, as well as the jungle and a bar in Vietnam. Lighting design by Donny Jackson makes good use of strobe during battle. Costume design by Gina Davidson appears authentic. Sound design by David B. Marling works just fine during musical interludes, but is unnecessarily distracting in a couple of scenes when actors speak over or lip sync their own dialog.
Producer is Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners. Associate producer is Victoria Watson, Theatre Planners. Stage manager is Marissa Drammissi.
Racism, homophobia and the various, volatile ingredients for mutiny could have made for a testosterone-fueled night of theater. And while those with military experience may be more engaged, I fear Zulu Time is a bold and brave attempt, but mostly missed opportunity to bring understanding and catharsis to that which divides us.
Now playing until August 09, 2015
Running time: 120 mins
Photo above by Ed Kreiger: Acquah Dansoh and Chris T. Wood in Zulu Time