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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
SURFACE TO AIR
at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
By Jessica Branch

  Larry Bryggman,Lois Smith and Cady Huffman

Sadly, David Epstein's new drama is all too aptly named. The play examines what happens when uncomfortable realities - about the Vietnam War and about themselves - reemerge for one family after the body of their soldier son is returned, thirty years later. But unlike the exhumed corpse, nothing else seems to be buried very deeply here.

Watched by the ghost of the dead airman, who narrates the story of his death with the same self-protective clinical detachment he brought to his bombings, the family gathers at the parents' Long Island home, ostensibly to plan a commemoration of his remains. Instead, the distractible crew become embroiled in the problems of the living - troubled marriages, demanding careers, and longstanding family jealousies and conflicts.

The starstudded cast digs into the characters, who are rich in individual quirks. Father Hank (Larry Bryggman) dotes on his failing wife (Lois Smith) and the memory of his airman son but his putterings belie an underlying emotional parsimony and obsessive need for control, while his surviving son, the burly, softspoken Eddie (James Colby), has failed in marriage and business, haunted by the war's horrors his father denies. In the play's' one ray of hope, Eddie's new wife, Magdalena (Marisa Echeverria) is a Belizean bombshell turned union activist who combines a gentle heart with a steely determination.

But as the inaction unfolds, the relationships between those characters take on a schematic predictability. Hank's admiration and love are all focused on his dead son, whose hallowed memory Eddie can't hope to live up to, and his tough-talking Hollywood producer sister (Cady Huffman) is clearly meant to be overcompensating (and emasculating her documentary-making husband) for always having been locked out of the family's boys' club, though Huffman does much to humanize her role.

Nor is the play any deeper on a political level, evoking Vietnam's tormented legacy as a forerunner of what Iraq's is likely to be. The parallel's perhaps too obvious to need belaboring. But in a play that seeks to parse out the different degrees of hell that different wars represent - Eddie screams that his father deludes himself that Vietnam was just like World War II - the comparison also seems simplistic and historical, merely, as it were, scratching the surface.

 


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